Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey’s lead heading into the November midterm elections is looking slimmer, according to a poll released Monday evening.
Menendez, a two-term senator and former congressman, is only leading Republican challenger Bob Hugin, a former Marine, veteran and business leader, two percentage points, according to a Gravis Marketing poll released Monday evening. That is, notably, down two percentage points from May, when a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll pegged Menendez lead at only four percentage points.
“It’s no surprise that the more New Jerseyans learn about corrupt, career politician Bob Menendez the less they trust him and the more they want him out of office. We have seen a significant shift towards our campaign and only expect those numbers to grow,” Hugin communications director Megan Piwowar said in a statement.
Gravis’ poll has a notably small sample size of 563 and a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The marketing agency polled “likely voters” from July 6 to July 10 over the phone, email and other methods.
The other polls have, within reason, similar sample sizes and margins of error. Fairleigh Dickinson’s poll has a margin of error or plus or minus 3.5 percentage points and a sample size of 856. Monmouth University’s poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for voters and a sample size of 632. Quinnipiac has the largest sample size — 1,052 — and a margin of error 4.2 percentage points.
New Jersey is a state that appears solidly Democratic at first glance, but it is an ever intriguing state for political scientists. Republicans rarely win in New Jersey state races, but they also rarely lose by a large margin. For the past 100 years, the state has voted within a few percentage points of the national average in presidential election cycles.
Menendez defeated his challenger in 2012, Republican Joe Kyrillos, taking 58.5 percent of the vote versus Kyrillos’ 39.8 percent. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the state with 14 percent more of the vote than President Donald Trump in 2016.
RealClearPolitics has the state leaning only “likely Democrat,” this election cycle, but Republicans, notably, rarely eclipse the 50 percent mark in statewide races. It isn’t clear whether or not Hugin will be able to garner that many votes, but it is clear that voters are becoming increasingly iffy about Menendez, a man who has been at the center of one of the biggest political scandals since the 2016 election. (RELATED: Reid Asked Obama To Help Menendez Donor)
The scandal revolves around a Florida eye doctor and longtime friend of Menendez’s, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who lavished the senator with large campaign donations and held private fundraisers for him at his 6,500-square-foot home in North Palm Beach, Florida. Melgen did all of this in exchange for Menendez’s assistance in navigating government disputes.
The doctor was convicted of 67 counts of Medicare fraud and sentenced to well over a decade in prison in late April 2017. (RELATED: Florida Doctor Found Guilty Of 67 Counts Of Fraud)
The Senate Ethics Committee conducted a months-long investigation into the matter and found Menendez in violation of federal election and ethics laws in late April.
“The Committee has found that over a six-year period, you knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. Melgen without obtaining required Committee approval, and that you failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate Rule and federal law,” the committee wrote in an April 26 letter to Menendez.
The New Jersey senator also faced a federal corruption trial. The trial ended in November 2017 in a mistrial after a federal jury said they were unable to reach a final verdict. After nine weeks of testimony, the judge in the case said the jury was gridlocked and there was no other alternative but to “declare a mistrial.”
Democrats attack Hugin for his previous role as an executive with pharmaceutical company Celgene. Hugin retired from the company as executive chairman in early February to pursue his campaign against Menendez.
The argument against Hugin is while he was serving as executive chairman, the company settled a whistleblower lawsuit that alleged Celgene repurposed a leprosy drug for unapproved cancer treatments. Celgene paid $280 million to settle the lawsuit.
That agreement settled a suit in a federal court in California that alleged Celgene submitted false claims to Medicare, arguing abuse, which is what Menendez was wrapped up in with Melgen.
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