Democrats outnumber Republicans 33 percent to 20 percent in registered voters (47 percent don't affiliate with either party; largely independents). Barack Obama carried the state by more than 15 percent in 2008 and 18 percent in 2012. While Republican Chris Christie defeated the unpopular incumbent Jon Corzine in the 2009 gubernatorial election, the last time a Republican won a Senate race in the state was when Clifford Case was re-elected for a fourth term in 1972. He was primaried in 1978 by the conservative Jeffrey Bell, who ended up losing to Bill Bradley. There have been Republican governors since then, but no Republicans elected to the Senate.
Nevertheless, a week and a half ago the Republican candidate for the Senate race to fill the seat vacated by Frank Lautenberg's death, Steve Lonegan, sent out a campaign e-mail declaring that "pundits both in New Jersey and across the country are starting to concede that we can win this election," given a Quinnipiac poll that showed Cory Booker's lead at 12 points, down from twice that in the summer. A few days later, the Booker campaign used an article about Lonegan closing the gap against Booker to declare that "[n]o one ever said running a race against a tea party favorite would be easy." The RCP average has Booker up by 17.5 points.
Lonegan certainly has an uphill battle. The so-called conventional wisdom suggests Lonegan might be "too conservative" for the New Jersey electorate. Yet, when in 2012 incumbent Bob Menendez defeatead Joe Kyrillos by nearly 20 percent. Kyrillos is few people's idea of a conservative. Currently in the state senate, he's introduced a resolution urging airlines to enact policies on peanuts. No, seriously. Lonegan polling at about where Kyrillos ended up last year appears to contradict the conventional wisdom that only a big government Republican, like Kyrillos or even Chris Christie, can win in New Jersey.
Even the Hill picked up on Booker's "fading star," reporting that the newest polling
also suggests Lonegan's attacks on Booker's perceived preoccupation with celebrity — Hollywood fundraisers have held two events for him during the campaign — are taking their toll.
"The one thing I do know has shrunk significantly is [Booker's] popularity rating. He has taken a hit. If that keeps going unanswered, we would expect to see the margin shrink even more," [Monmouth University Polling Institute] Patrick Murray said.
Fifty-four percent of likely voters in the state view Booker favorably in the Monmouth poll, a decline of 7 percentage points. His unfavorability rating increased 13 points.
Booker has faced scrutiny over his business interest, which was subsequently divested, in a tech startup that appeared to be going nowhere. He also endured negative reports about two homes he owned in Newark, one of which has sat empty and in disarray with little attention from the mayor.
Murray said Booker has suffered from being somewhat removed from the campaign trail, bouncing around the nation to raise money, not just for the special primary and general elections, but also the 2014 Senate election in the state.
Booker's also received criticism for being unavailable to press. His relative silence has allowed a number of negative reports to take hold and feed into Lonegan's narrative questioning Booker's integrity.
This being an election in 2013, Booker, a profuse tweeter, has also embroiled himself in a rated PG-13 Twitter hullaballoo over DMs with a vegan stripper.
The election will also be affected by its awkward scheduling. The special election will be held Wednesday, October 16th, less than two weeks away but something I had to Google even though I'm a New Jersey voter. After Frank Lautenberg died, Chris Christie opted not to wait until 2014 to hold a special election, but also not to hold it at the same time as his own election day in November. Christie, who has picked up significant Democrat support in his re-election bid, did not want to jeopardize that possible 2016 booster by having to run on a ticket opposite Cory Booker. Obama's people think Christie would make a fine candidate. Officially, Christie said he favored the awkward scheduling for democracy's sake. Of course he did.
Rand Paul campaigned with Steve Lonegan last month, and Rick Perry earlier this week. More Reason on Cory Booker here. I talked to some of the New Jersey candidates before the primaries, including Lonegan, about the NSA revelations, here.