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New Jersey Senate

New Jersey is shaping up to be a problem for Senate Democrats. Most of the recent punditry has focused on Republican troubles and whether or not Democrats can recapture Congress, but when looking at the Senate for 2006, perhaps a better question might be: can the Democrats even pick up seats?

Republicans are getting a "two-fer" from Jon Corzine's decision to leave the Senate for New Jersey's Governor's mansion last year. First, as a sitting Senator with a willingness to spend enormous sums of his personal wealth, Mr. Corzine would have been a very difficult incumbent for Republicans to unseat. In his win in 2000, Mr. Corzine outspent his opponent Bob Franks $63 million to $6 million.

Second, as Governor Mr. Corzine has done his best to reenact the politically disastrous politics of the Florio administration. Like Florio in 1989, Mr. Corzine has called for higher state taxes causing his approval ratings to fall into the 30's. In 1990, this led to a political environment where the relatively unknown Christie Todd Whitman came within 3 pts (50%-47%) of beating incumbent Senator Bill Bradley - despite being out spent fifteen to one.

This is the playing field shaping up for Mr. Corzine's replacement, Senator Bob Menendez, who has neither Mr. Bradley's stature nor Mr. Corzine's money. To complicate matters further, Mr. Menendez's opponent, Tom Kean, Jr. is the son of the popular former Governor Tom Kean.

Polling over the last 6 months by Quinnipiac University and Rasmussen Reports show a close race with both candidates hovering in the high 30's/low 40's. Quinnipiac's last six polls (averaged out since November) show Menendez ahead 41% - 37%. Rasmussen's last six over the same time frame give Kean the edge 39% - 37%.

New Jersey was once a quintessential swing state that has become consistently more Democratic on the national level. The last time Republicans carried the state in a Presidential election was 1988. But George W. Bush managed 46% in 2004, a six-point improvement from 2000. And the state Democratic party has been skating on thin ice in the recent major elections for Governor and Senate, surviving the Torricelli and McGreevy scandals with shrewd gaming of the system which may be catching up with the state party.

While President Bush's woes and Republican angst on Capital Hill may be dominating most of the national headlines, the political environment may be quietly shaping up for Republicans to pickup a Senate seat in blue state New Jersey.