A new poll of the U.S. Senate race in New Jersey reveals an astonishing trend: Cory Booker, the state's Democratic senator running for a full term this fall, frequently polls below 50 percent support against his Republican challenger, Jeff Bell. The latest survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University shows 42 percent of registered voters say they support Booker, while 29 percent say they support Bell. Twenty-seven percent, meanwhile, say they haven't made up their minds yet.
That's a 13-point advantage for Booker, to be sure, but it's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the former Newark mayor, who won a special election for the open seat last year. The New Jersey seat is a likely Democratic hold, but the FDU poll is one of several polls taken over the past few months to show Booker below 50 percent. In fact, just two polls, both from the New York Times and CBS News, have Booker breaking that threshold, with the most recent of those giving 52 percent to Bell's 37 percent. One poll last month even had Booker leading by a mere 10 points.
Booker isn't quite the juggernaut he may appear. He won his special election in 2013 by just 10 points, despite facing an underfunded and underwhelming opponent in former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan. And as Eliana Johnson of National Review has demonstrated, Booker hasn't been fully vetted. But the Democrat is well-funded, having raised more than $16 million this cycle. New Jersey remains a strongly Democratic state on the federal level; the last time the Garden State elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate was 1972. That was Clifford Case, who would go on to lose the GOP nomination in 1978 to one Jeff Bell, then a young conservative upstart.
Now the 76-year-old Bell is running his longshot campaign on a shoestring budget and an almost singular message: the gold standard. His name recongition is nothing compared to Booker's, and help from the state's leading Republican, governor Chris Christie, has been minimal. The Republican establishment in Washington has all but ignored the race.
So why is Booker taking so long to seal the deal?