If the election for U. S. Senate were held now the incumbent U.S. Senator Cory Booker would receive 47% of the vote and Republican challenger Jeff Bell 37% according to a just-released Quinnipiac University poll.
It is surprising that the race is so close. As of June 30 Booker reported to the FEC total disbursements of $12,682,311 (last 18 months) and current cash on hand of $3,489,139. Bell reported total disbursements of $231,770 (last 6 months) and cash on hand of $0. Booker has been a state-wide, well-known person for years beginning with his initial candidacy to his incumbency as Newark’s mayor and more recently as U. S. Senator.
Bell last ran for office as the Republican U.S. Senate nominee from New Jersey in 1978 and lost to Democrat Bill Bradley. Having lived in Northern Virginia for 31 years Bell recently moved to a rented home in Leonia to run for Senate. It was surprising enough when this 70 year-old conservative policy wonk won the Republican primary against better known candidates. Now he has respectable polling results. As Quinnipiac’s poll Asst. Director Maurice Carroll said, “Hardly anyone knows Jeff Bell. Still, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s lead is barely in double digits. Two-thirds of Republicans don’t know their Senate candidate, but more than 80 percent back him.”
The election is still three months away and as more people get to know Bell his support may decline. In the favorable/unfavorable opinion of Bell the results were 16%/5% with 77% who said they had not heard enough about him. Booker was 47%/27% with a surprisingly large number of 23% who had not heard enough.
Booker, as the Democrat incumbent with a huge war chest in a state which regularly sends Democrats to the U.S. Senate, has a clear advantage. He also has some work to do. In his Special Senate election last year he defeated the ultra-right Steve Lonegan 740,742 (55.5%) to 593,684 (44.5%) – a closer race than many expected and in spite of vastly overspending Lonegan. In the Quinnipiac poll Booker commands 85% of the Democrats versus 9% of the Republicans. However he has only 42% of the Independents and 40% of men. These are two categories in which he needs improvement.