Republican challenger gains on Menendez in U.S. Senate race

Ranking Member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., questions Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing Thursday, April 12, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

Ranking Member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., questions Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing Thursday, April 12, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

The U.S. Senate race in New Jersey could be a close contest.

A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of registered voters shows incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez with only a 4-point lead over leading Republican challenger Bob Hugin.

The Senate Ethics Committee’s admonishment of Menendez for taking gifts from a wealthy doctor is weighing on his re-election efforts — even though he was not convicted of federal corruption charges, according to Krista Jenkins, poll director.

“Over the next few months, there’s certainly time for him to burnish his reputation and his image among those people who potentially have been more supportive at this point, but who are no longer because of the admonishment,” she said. “I would anticipate these numbers will improve considerably, but it’s hard to make any predictions in this political environment.”

A jury deadlocked on the most serious charges against Menendez and prosecutors decided not to put him on trial again.

Few people are paying attention to the Senate race yet, Jenkins said, and there’s time for Menendez to pick up support before the November election.

“As you get closer, it then becomes a question of how effective has he been as a legislator for New Jersey and he certainly has things he can promote with his constituents,” she said. “I think he’s going to benefit, but it remains to be seen how much.”

Nearly half of the voters surveyed say they haven’t decided on a candidate.

A Republican hasn’t won a U.S. Senate race in New Jersey since 1972.

The New Jersey Primary Election is June 5.  Hugin faces another GOP candidate, but a few others who had been in the race withdrew.  Menendez faces a Democratic challenger, but is expected to win the nomination.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.