When he entered the U.S. Senate special election race to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, Newark Mayor Cory Booker was a major favorite to win the general election as long as he cleared the primary field. He had name recognition and cash to his advantage and was already building a candidacy for 2014 to begin with. While he was facing two experienced members of Congress and the state Assembly Speaker, he had little trouble cruising through the primary field. With the primary election over, the attention turned towards Booker against the Republican nominee Steve Lonegan.
As the general race officially began, a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll showed Booker leading Lonegan 54% to 38%. This poll showed a race roughly around the same as initial polls were showing in early June.
For Patrick Murray, the Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute,
We find that only about one in five voters are either undecided or say they'll change their mind right now. You put all that together, and there's not a lot of room for movement in this electorate.
Among Independent voters, Booker has an 8 point advantage with 49% support to 41% for Lonegan.
Murray would add,
Cory Booker appears to be in the driver’s seat after his big primary win, but his personal ratings declined over the course of the campaign. Steve Lonegan, on the other hand, remains basically unknown to half the electorate after coasting to the GOP nomination.
As the race drew within about a month of the general election, Booker would only extend his lead in the polls according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released. The poll showed Booker with 64% of the vote compared to Lonegan with 29% of the vote.
For David Redlawsk, the Director of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll,
Booker appears to be building an insurmountable lead. While special elections are notoriously hard to predict, given uncertainties about turnout, Booker’s name recognition, celebrity-type status and stances on issues that align more with New Jersey’s ‘blue’ political climate seem to be driving momentum toward him and away from Lonegan.
Redlawsk would key in on the breakdown of party support for both candidates by adding,
The nearly unanimous party support is a key for Booker. Democrats seem motivated in this election, and may even be more likely to turn out than Republicans, who are much more split on their candidate.
The only real unpredictable element is what the turnout of the election will look like compared to what opinions voters have. The Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed that only about 60% of registered voters were likely going to vote.
Adding to the polling aspect would be a Stockton Polling Institute poll that showed a 26 point edge for Booker. The study had Booker with 58% support compared to Lonegan with 32% support.
For Daniel J. Douglas, Director of the Hughes Center that oversees the Stockton polling institute,
Cory Booker's name recognition and positive ratings are high, while Steve Lonegan is still an unknown to a sizable portion of the electorate. That puts Lonegan at a disadvantage as the election nears.
Another major advantage for Booker in these polls is the fact that six in ten voters have a favorable opinion of him. Lonegan is seeing about three in ten saying the same.
While it was starting to look like a runaway race based on those polls, the last couple weeks have shown a narrowing race. A Quinnipiac University poll would show the race going from a 25 or more edge for Booker to closer to the 16 point edge seen right after the primaries. This poll would show Booker receiving 53% compared to Lonegan with 41%. Nearly 1,000 respondents were surveyed.
Maurice Carroll, Director of the University Polling Institute, sees the shift in polling and a closer race potentially stemming from the string of negative stories Booker was dealing with about a month ago.
He would add,
Maybe that ‘show horse vs. work horse’ charge from Republican Steve Lonegan is having an impact. (However) if it's not a blow-out, it still looks like a comfortable lead for Booker. New Jersey is a blue state and it hasn’t elected a Republican senator — let alone a conservative one — since Sen. Clifford Case in 1972.
Another Monmouth University poll would echo the Quinnipiac poll. The polling sample size for this one was closer to 600 and showed Booker receiving 53% support compared to 40% for Lonegan.
Monmouth University’s polls have consistently shown this race to be closer than most pundits thought it would be.
This poll also asked respondents what they thought Booker's main objective for running for U.S. Senate was. 45% felt that he was looking to further his national image and explore while 35% felt he was primarily concerned with working to help New Jersey.
As Murray would add,
While Cory Booker’s lead is relatively sizable, many voters have doubts about his motives in seeking this seat.
Of note in this Monmouth poll as well is the fact that Booker's favorability numbers have dropped as his unfavorable numbers have increased. Nonetheless, at least 54% still have a favorable view of him which is generally enough to have minimal concerns before an election. For comparison, 35% have a favorable opinion of Lonegan. Like Booker, his unfavorable numbers have increased. But, unlike Booker his favorability rating has not budged.
Murray would also state,
Statewide, positive opinion of Cory Booker has been broad, but not necessarily deep. It’s possible that Steve Lonegan’s attacks have caused many voters to reconsider their opinion of Booker, even if they don’t change their vote.
Thus as polls show a closer race building down the stretch, it might not be a runaway after all. But, based on the combination of things in Booker's favor along with the numbers and polls; it looks like Booker is a little more than a week away from becoming New Jersey's next U.S. Senator. It is not impossible but history and the polls will be tough for Lonegan to overcome. A low turnout is definitely a wildcard and like the polls are showing; this race will be a bit closer than expected.