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Blog Home Page --> Senate -- New Jersey

NJ: Lautenberg +11

New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg retains a big lead in his bid for a new term, according to a new poll. Still, plenty of Garden State voters remain undecided, giving ex-Rep. Dick Zimmer a chance to make the race close.

The PublicMind poll, conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, surveyed 840 likely voters between 9/4-7 for a margin of error of +/- 3.4%. Lautenberg and GOP nominee Zimmer were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Lautenberg.......46 / 78 / 14 / 20 (+1 from last, 6/22)
Zimmer...........35 / 10 / 69 / 31 (+7)

Zimmer has growth potential, but his trouble is name identification. While 41% have a favorable opinion of Lautenberg and 29% see him unfavorably, just 25% know enough about Zimmer to have an opinion at all (16% favorable, 9% unfavorable).

Despite Zimmer's lead among independent voters, Lautenberg's overall lead belies the Democratic nature of the state. National Republicans had once hoped to spend money on Zimmer's behalf, but the hill they have to climb could prove too steep.

NJ: All Tied Up

The contest between Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg and Republican ex-Rep. Dick Zimmer is neck and neck, according to a new poll sponsored by the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth. It's no surprise coming out of the Garden State, though, where voters never seem to make up their mind until the very end of an election, though Democrats backing Lautenberg take serious issue with the poll.

Conducted by the Republican firm Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates, the surveyed 400 likely voters between 7/30-31 for a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Lautenberg and Zimmer were tested, along with five other minor party candidates. The sample breakdown was 41% Democratic voters, 25% Republicans and 34% independents or others.

General Election Matchup

The incumbent's favorable ratings would look bad in most states, but in New Jersey, where most incumbents are unpopular, Lautenberg's 46% favorable to 39% unfavorable rating isn't bad. Zimmer is seen favorably by 23% of New Jersey voters, while 14% see him unfavorably.

The Club for Growth poll comes two days after a Quinnipiac University survey showed Lautenberg leading by seven points, with a significantly smaller pool of undecided voters.

Democrats suggest the poll oversamples certain Republican-heavy areas while undersampling Democratic turf. Too, one might question the survey's question order; respondents are asked a total of eleven questions before the Senate matchup in the Club's poll, while respondents are asked just a screening question before the Senate matchup in the Quinnipiac poll.

NJ: Lautenberg +7

New Jersey voters generally have trouble making up their minds until the end of an election season. But a new poll shows the overwhelming majority of Garden State voters have their favored candidates in a Senate race that pits incumbent Frank Lautenberg against former Rep. Dick Zimmer.

The Quinnipiac University poll, conducted 8/4-10, surveyed 1,468 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 2.6%. Lautenberg and Zimmer were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Lautenberg......48 / 79 / 12 / 42 / 45 / 51 (+1 from last, 6/11)
Zimmer.............41 / 12 / 80 / 44 / 46 / 36 (+3)

Lautenberg holds big leads among urban and suburban voters, while Zimmer keeps it close by blowing out the incumbent in he exurbs. Zimmer, who represented a district in the middle of the state that included Trenton, will need to boost his support in three Republican-held districts that contain parts of the Philadelphia suburbs, where he trails by five points.

Both candidates have net favorable ratings, though Lautenberg's 43% favorable to 35% unfavorable is not extremely healthy for an incumbent (46% approve of Lautenberg's job performance, while 38% disapprove). And Zimmer has name identification problems, with just 25% of New Jersey voters seeing him favorably and 12% viewing him unfavorably; 62% of voters have not heard enough to make up their mind.

Garden State voters are also worried about Lautenberg's age. The Senator's primary opponent, Rep. Rob Andrews, ran advertisements pointing out that Lautenberg would be 90 years old once his term is up, and while Andrews couldn't win, 55% of voters still say Lautenberg, at 84, is too old to effectively serve in the Senate. If Zimmer can somehow make that argument without insulting older voters, he could cut into Lautenberg's lead.

NJ Sen: Lautenberg +8

A new Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll shows Senator Frank Lautenberg leading his Republican rival, though the four-term incumbent remains well below the 50% mark.

Conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute, the poll surveyed 698 registered voters between 7/17-21 for a margin of error of +/- 3.7%. Lautenberg and Zimmer, a former member of Congress, were tested. The survey sample was made up of 42% Democratic voters, 25% Republican voters and 33% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Lautenberg.....45 / 75 / 14 / 34
Zimmer............37 / 10 / 71 / 40

As we've mentioned before, New Jersey voters are notoriously fickle, and many don't decide until the week before Election Day. In recent years, those undecided voters have broken toward Democratic candidates, though every year at least some Republicans get excited for their prospects in the Garden State and spend some ill-advised money there.

With two open Republican-held House seats and Lautenberg's re-election bid this year, New Jersey could be a surprising sleeper state that benefits Democrats.

Lautenberg Leads, Under 50

New Jersey voters are a fickle lot who feel no rush to choose a candidate, and a new PublicMind poll shows that hasn't changed this year. Incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg remains easily in the lead, but fewer than 50% of Garden State voters say they would vote for him in November.

The poll, conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, surveyed 589 voters between 6/17-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.1%. Lautenberg, a Democrat who has served four non-consecutive terms, and ex-Rep. Dick Zimmer, the Republican nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Lautenberg.......45 / 69 / 11 / 29
Zimmer..............28 / 11 / 63 / 22

Just how many voters remain undecided? More than one in five Democrats, one in four Republicans and almost half of all independents say they have yet to make up their mind. Some aren't even interested in sharing their opinions of the candidates themselves. More than 30% either have no opinion of, or haven't heard of, Lautenberg, while a whopping 73% say the same thing about Zimmer.

Overall, 41% view Lautenberg favorably with 28% seeing him unfavorably. Zimmer's ratio is worse, with just a 16% favorable rating and a 10% unfavorable rating.

After a number of false starts, some early polls showed Zimmer with at least a chance to beat Lautenberg, however slim. And Lautenberg's sub-fifty poll numbers should encourage Republicans, too. But the state leans Democratic, and every year early poll numbers that show Republicans with a shot turn into a rout at the ballot box. Republicans should be wary, too, about spending ad dollars in the state; they don't have much money to burn, and buying time in the New York and Philadelphia media markets is a pricey proposition.

Zimply Unbeatable?

After a big primary victory last week, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg is in good position to win a fifth non-consecutive term in New Jersey, a new poll shows. And despite low approval ratings in the past, the early advertising blitz the primary forced on Lautenberg looks like it has paid off, as New Jersey voters now see him in a more favorable light than they have recently.

The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University, surveyed 1,473 registered voters between 6/5-8 for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Lautenberg and former Rep. Dick Zimmer, who won the Republican nomination, were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Lautenberg......47 / 80 / 13 / 35 / 45 / 50
Zimmer.............38 / 11 / 79 / 43 / 42 / 36

Though his numbers remain below the critical 50% mark, Lautenberg can take solace in the fact that ordinarily, New Jersey voters are very hesitant about answering pollsters. The state is infamous for sporting a huge number of undecided voters as late as a few days before the election. With so few claiming to be undecided now, Lautenberg has a decent lead, though he should be concerned with appealing to independent voters, among whom he trails by eight points.

Lautenberg's approval rating is up seven points, to 46%, since the last survey, conducted in late February, showed 39% of Garden Staters liking the job he's doing as Senator. His colleague, junior Senator Bob Menendez, sports ratings more similar to that of a New Jersey incumbent not facing imminent re-election; just 36% like the job he's doing, while 26% disapprove.

While he leads, many still think Lautenberg is too old to serve another six-year term. Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews repeatedly pointed out that Lautenberg will be weeks away from 91 years old at the end of the term, and 54% of respondents said they thought he would not be able to serve effectively. 59% of independents and 48% of Democrats agreed.

But in a heavily Democratic state in which voters break late to Democratic candidates, Zimmer faces a steep uphill climb. To achieve success, he may need outside political and financial help, and if John McCain plans to seriously compete in the state, Zimmer could benefit. McCain will visit New Jersey tomorrow, stopping at a community college in Pemberton.

In NJ, Geography Matters

Despite polls showing a large portion of New Jersey voters concerned with Senator Frank Lautenberg's age, the 84-year old Democrat defeated Rep. Rob Andrews by a larger than expected margin, taking 59% to Andrews' 35% in the Garden State primary last night. Donald Cresitello, the mayor of Morristown, finished a distant third with 6%.

Andrews, who only jumped in the race in early April, ran advertisements in the state's two hugely expensive media markets, Philadelphia and New York City, pointing out that Lautenberg would be 91 years old after finishing out his fourth term (Actually an error on Andrews' part; Lautenberg won't turn 91 until about three weeks after his term expires).

But age mattered less than geography in New Jersey last night. Lautenberg ran up big totals in the state's northern counties, including a more than four-to-one victory in Bergen County and similar margins in Middlesex, Essex and Hudson Counties, all heavily Democratic areas in the northeast part of the state. Andrews managed impressive wins in his home base in Camden and Gloucester Counties, which he represents in Congress, but the level of Lautenberg's wins up north carried the day.

On the Republican side, former Rep. Dick Zimmer beat two other Republicans with 46% of the vote, a margin narrower than his state party would have liked. Zimmer joined the race late, after several other promising contenders dropped out. He beat conservative State Senator Joe Pennacchio, who clocked 40%, and college professor Murray Sabrin, for whom Ron Paul campaigned earlier this year, who took 14%.

Zimmer lost a bid for this same Senate seat twelve years ago, when Democrat Robert Torricelli beat him by ten points. This year Zimmer will remain the underdog, but should more general election voters see Lautenberg's age as a negative than the Democratic electorate did, Republicans may have yet another reason to hope for a good result in the state. Those hopes, though, have been dashed repeatedly in recent years.

Like New Mexico, New Jersey also has three open seats this year, but with a giant asterisk. Andrews, who vacated his First District to run for Senate, could very well end up back in the House next year. That's because Andrews' wife, Camille, won the primary to replace her husband, though she is largely seen as a placeholder candidate who will be substituted out for the incumbent before November.

East of Andrews' Camden-based district, Republican Rep. Jim Saxton is retiring after twelve terms in Congress. The Third District stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, and Democrats think they have a good case for winning a seat that voted for Al Gore by eleven points but that favored President Bush by 8,000 votes out of more than 220,000 cast in 2004.

Democrats cleared the field for State Senator John Adler, who in 1990 lost to Saxton by a wide margin. This year, though, Adler is seen as one of the party's top recruits, and he had already raised a jaw-dropping $1.4 million through the May 14 pre-primary filing deadline. Adler maintains $1.1 million on hand.

In November, he will face Medford Township Councilman Chris Myers, the Republican anointed by Saxton as his successor. A Gulf War veteran and former Lockheed Martin vice president, Myers took 49% of the vote, compared with 26% for Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly and 25% for former Tabernacle Township committeeman Justin Murphy. Republicans are happy with Myers because of his defense background in a district that has several military bases and relies heavily on the defense industry (Saxton retires as the second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee).

The state's other open seat presents another Democratic target, though it may be a steeper hill for the party to climb. In 2006, state Assemblywoman Linda Stender came a surprisingly close 3,000 votes away from beating Republican Michael Ferguson in the Seventh District, which snakes from the Pennsylvania border to the Newark suburbs. The district gave President Bush a six-point win in 2004 and a one-point victory in 2000, but national Democrats have made Stender's second attempt at the seat a top priority.

Replacing Ferguson, whose retirement was not completely expected, on the GOP ballot will be State Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance. Lance scored 40% of the vote last night, doubling the total for his next-closest competitor, businesswoman Kate Whitman, the daughter of former Governor Christie Todd Whitman. Lance has some financial catching up to do, after raising $382,000 before the primary and spending all but $191,000 through the May 14 pre-primary window. Stender has a huge cash advantage, with $913,000 in the bank.

Despite both Republican nominees' financial shortfall, the National Republican Congressional Committee maintains that both will have good chances in November given the state of the Democratic Party in New Jersey. "Republicans nominated two incredibly strong candidates on primary night while Democrats have cast their lot in with two machine politicians who have contributed heavily to the dysfunction in Trenton and served as enablers for the vastly unpopular Democratic Governor Jon Corzine," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. The DCCC did not return a request for comment by press time.

Lautenberg, Andrews Face Off

In perhaps the most closely-watched primary to be held tomorrow, Garden State Democrats will head to the polls to select a Senate nominee. What was supposed to be an easy re-election campaign for incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg became a lot more competitive two months ago when Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews threw his hat into the ring.

Both candidates have raised millions in the run-up to election day; Lautenberg had pulled in nearly $5.7 million by May 14, the pre-primary filing deadline, while Andrews had just north of $3 million raised. Lautenberg has outspent Andrews and has a lot more cash on hand, but Andrews actually outraised the incumbent between April 1 and mid-May.

To take a look at Lautenberg's press releases, one would assume the incumbent is running far behind. Aside from endorsement announcements, the senator takes near-daily shots at his rival. One Lautenberg consultant told Politics Nation that the race will be within ten points, and the most recent public poll out of the state shows the incumbent with just 35% support, compared with Andrews' paltry 20%.

Andrews has made age an issue; at 84 years old, polls have showed New Jersey voters are paying attention to Lautenberg's age. At their only televised debate, asked to say something nice about Lautenberg, Andrews thanked the senator for serving in World War II. Two prominent newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Newark Star-Ledger, have endorsed Andrews, citing age as only one reason for backing the 50-year old Andrews.

The winner of the Democratic primary will likely face former Rep. Dick Zimmer in the Fall. Zimmer, who lost a Senate bid to Bob Torricelli in 1996, was the last of several prominent Republicans the NRSC approached about running for the seat after one potential hopeful, Anne Evans Estabrook, bowed out for health reasons and another, Andrew Unanue, imploded as he launched his campaign. State Senator Joe Pennacchio and college professor Murray Sabrin are also running for the GOP nod.

But Zimmer, should he win tomorrow, will be an underdog heading into November. No Republican Senate candidate has won election in New Jersey since 1972, when Clifford Case won his last re-election bid. New Jersey voters are notoriously reluctant to answer pollsters' questions, virtually guaranteeing that the race will look close come October, but Lautenberg or Andrews will likely keep the seat in Democratic hands.

Lautenberg In Trouble

With just over a month to go before the state's June 3 primary, incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg is running ahead of Rep. Rob Andrews, who surprised political observers by declaring his intent to run for the seat last month. But within a new poll, many Garden State voters tell Monmouth University pollsters that Lautenberg may be in trouble, either in June or in a November matchup with likely GOP nominee Dick Zimmer.

The survey, conducted for Gannett between 4/24-28, surveyed 720 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 3.7%. 396 voters were tested in the Democratic sample, for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%, and 230 Republicans were included in their party's sample, for a margin of error of +/- 6.5%. Lautenberg and Andrews were tested, and on the Republican side Zimmer, State Senator Joe Pennacchio and college professor Murray Sabrin were matched up.

Primary Election Matchups
Lautenberg 35
Andrews 20

Zimmer 25
Pennacchio 5
Sabrin 4

New Jersey voters are notoriously reluctant to share their opinions with pollsters, and the high number of undecided voters should come as no surprise. Voters there tend to break heavily only in the final days of polling leading up to an election.

But the fact that a sitting U.S. Senator can only garner a third of the votes in his own primary should be unsettling. And despite his strong name recognition, just 26% of voters say Lautenberg should be re-elected, while 61% say it's time for someone else. That gives Andrews a big opening; even 56% of Democrats think someone else should be representing the state.

Still, Lautenberg's biggest benefit is his name recognition and voter perceptions that he's doing a good job. 48% approve of his job performance while 31% disapprove, and 43% view him favorably, compared with 30% who see him unfavorably. That's not a great number, but given that his name is recognized by a total of 94% of the state is a positive; just 43% recognize Andrews' name, and he boasts just a 13% favorable to 12% unfavorable rating.

As a side note, New Jersey voters also maintain a historically low opinion of their incumbents. Governor Jon Corzine has just a 36% job approval rating, while 53% disapprove. That's dramatically worse than his already upside-down 40% approval to 44% disapproval rating from January. Junior Senator Bob Menendez's ratings are also an anemic 41% approval to 31% disapproval.

In this year's Senate contest, the Democratic candidate, whoever that may be, remains a strong favorite in the Garden State. 54% of respondents said they were more likely to vote for that party, while just 24% said they would likely vote for the Republican winner.

Unanue Subbing In NJ

After a disastrous beginning, former Goya Foods executive and businessman Andrew Unanue is considering ending his bid against New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg. Multiple Republican sources tell multiple news outlets that Unanue will leave the race, after allegations that he showed up to work intoxicated and that he actually lived across the water in Manhattan.

Should he make his exit official, Unanue would likely set up a "committee on vacancies," given that the filing deadline has passed. That committee could then select a replacement candidate, and former Rep. Dick Zimmer told Gannett he's fielded calls and is ready to step in. The decision to choose Zimmer would have to be made before April 16 in advance of the June 3 primary.

Zimmer, who lost a previous bid for Senate in 1996, serves as a lawyer at the prominent Washington shop Gibson Dunn, though he maintains his residence in Delaware Township, New Jersey. After losing to Democrat Robert Torricelli twelve years ago, Zimmer tried to run for his old House seat, in 2000, losing to incumbent Democrat Rush Holt. At 63 years old, Zimmer told the news service that he looks forward to stacking his record against either incumbent Lautenberg or Rep. Rob Andrews, who is challenging Lautenberg in the primary.

That Zimmer is considering accepting a nomination as a replacement candidate is somewhat ironic. Six years after beating Zimmer, Torricelli stepped down amid serious ethics problems in the middle of an election campaign, to be replaced by Lautenberg. Republicans cried bloody murder, convinced that their candidate would have beaten the badly damaged Torricelli easily.

Now, after a series of failed efforts to recruit a top candidate to take on the 84-year-old Lautenberg, Republicans are pulling the same trick and bringing Zimmer off the bench. He will face State Senator Joe Pennacchio and college professor Murray Sabrin in the primary, both of whom national and state Republicans feel would make subpar candidates.

Lautenberg Leads Full Poll

As Rep. Rob Andrews prepared to make formal his bid to unseat fellow Democrat Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey's senior Senator, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a snap one-day poll showing Lautenberg with a wide lead in an effort to convince Andrews to stay out of the race. That didn't work, as Andrews announced the next day that he would get in the race.

The rest of the poll, though, shows Lautenberg remains in strong position to keep his job. The survey, taken by Benenson Strategy Group between 4/1-2, polled 517 likely Democratic primary voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Lautenberg and Andrews were surveyed.

Primary Election Matchup
Lautenberg 52
Andrews 21

A polling memo provided to the DSCC by Benenson cites Lautenberg's strength in Northern New Jersey, where voters have little notion of who Andrews is and favor the incumbent by a wide 61%-11% gap. The congressman runs much better in the southern part of the state, near his base in Camden, and leads in the Philadelphia media market by a 50%-29% margin.

Lautenberg is also in a good position in terms of his relationship with the Democratic base. In the notoriously fickle state, 57% of party voters say they will vote to re-elect the senator, while just 12% are planning to vote against him. But Andrews is no pushover, and with more than $2.4 million in the bank through January and just two months before the state's primary, he could give the 84-year old incumbent a serious challenge.

A few months ago, New Jersey was seen as a possible sleeper race Republicans might have a chance at picking off, especially given Lautenberg's historically low approval ratings and narrow victories. But several candidates have backed out, and businessman Andrew Unanue, the party's latest recruit, has faced a bumpy road in his initial weeks. Over the weekend, biotech executive John Crowley also decided against a race, as PolitickerNJ reported.

Andrews Making Surprise NJ Bid

After hinting he wasn't happy with his state's senior senator all week, south New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews confirmed yesterday he will challenge fellow Democrat Frank Lautenberg in a primary. With just a week to go before the filing deadline, Andrews will have to work fast to get the necessary signatures to get on the ballot, and he knows he faces an uphill fight. "I am David and he is Goliath, but I think the country is ready for some Davids," Andrews said, per the Newark Star-Ledger.

Andrews raised eyebrows earlier this week when he didn't attend Lautenberg's official announcement, and a spokesman later confirmed that he was scouting a potential bid of his own. And the issue on which Andrews hopes to draw the biggest contrast between the two led news accounts: The fact that Andrews is just 50 years old while Lautenberg is 84.

Polls have repeatedly shown that the senior senator's age could be a factor when voters head to the polls for either the June 3 primary or the November general election. Republican have had a difficult time finding a candidate, while other Democrats have hinted at, but passed on, a run themselves. At his announcement speech last week, Lautenberg was endorsed by the rest of the state's Democratic congressional delegation as well as Governor Jon Corzine and Senate colleague Bob Menendez.

But a survey conducted over the weekend suggests Andrews faces a hugely uphill battle. The survey, conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group 4/1 on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, tested Lautenberg and Andrews among likely Democratic primary voters.

Primary Election Matchup
Lautenberg 57
Andrews 22

The DSCC may have seen the primary challenge coming. In a poll conducted 3/28-30 by the Benenson Strategy Group, 61% of the 503 likely Democratic primary voters surveyed said they would vote to re-elect Lautenberg, while 28% said they might do so and just 11% said they would vote against him. Among Democratic voters, Lautenberg held favorable ratings and job approval numbers north of 70%.

The poll, DSCC spokesman Matt Miller told Politics Nation, was not in response to a threat from Andrews but focused on potential challenges from former state Democratic Party chairman Tom Byrne and others. Byrne decided earlier this week that he would not challenge Lautenberg.

Andrews has long coveted a statewide spot, and by challenging Lautenberg now may surprise potential future rivals with a win. When Corzine won the governor's mansion in 2005 and appointed Menendez to take his place in the Senate, many thought Andrews, who had also been in the running for the job, would try to take on Menendez. Instead, he held his fire, and Menendez won in November by a wide margin.

But Menendez is not Andrews' only potential rival for a top spot. Fellow Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone, Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell have also been mentioned as interested in a statewide run, and each of them have more than $1 million in the bank, according to recent FEC filings. Rep. Donald Payne is also said to be intrigued by the thought of a statewide race, and his cash on hand floats just below the magic seven-figure mark. Any primary against all or a combination of those candidates could leave Andrews at a distinct disadvantage.

Instead, he's taken his $2.4 million haul through the end of 2007 and will put it towards a two-month sprint against Lautenberg. The incumbent Democrat has just over $4.3 million in the bank, as of the last filing period, and begins with a serious leg up, but he's never been terribly popular. A survey conducted for Fairleigh Dickinson University showed just 38% of Garden State voters had a favorable impression of Lautenberg, while 22% held unfavorable views.

Running in a primary against an incumbent of the same party is rare, though it is hardly unprecedented. Six years ago, then-Rep. John Sununu beat incumbent New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith, an ultra-conservative Republican, in the Granite State's primary before narrowly beating Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen in November. And two years ago, Hawaii Rep. Ed Case came close to knocking off incumbent Senator Daniel Akaka, who survived his challenge.

Lautenberg Bid Official

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg will anounce his plans to run for a fifth term in the Senate at a rally in Trenton this afternoon, the Newark Star-Ledger reports this afternoon. Lautenberg, who initially retired from the Senate after 2000, was drafted back into service to replace Democrat Bob Torricelli on the ballot in 2002.

At 84 years old, Lautenberg will face questions about his age as he faces a challenge from at least one Democrat, and possibly more, before meeting a Republican in November. So far, at least one Democrat, Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello, is challenging the incumbent, while former state party chairman Tom Byrne is also said to be considering a bid.

Republicans are having problems of their own coming up with a candidate. State Senator Joe Pennacchio and college professor Murray Sabrin are already in the race, but the state GOP has scrambled to come up with another, more formidable candidate. Having settled on northern New Jersey businessman Andrew Unanue, the party thought they might have a winner. That came before Unanue was forced to announce his bid from Vail, Colorado and committed several more gaffes.

Though Lautenberg has never won a statewide race by a wide margin, he will be aided running in a presidential year, when New Jersey is expected to be safely in the Democratic column, and his $2 million bank account is not something any Republican can scoff at when considering a bid that would require advertising in a state covered by two of the most expensive media markets in the country.

At his announcement today, Lautenberg will be joined by Governor Jon Corzine, Senator Bob Menendez, state party chairman Joe Cryan and Reps. Bill Pascrell, Frank Pallone and Steve Rothman, PolitickerNJ reports. Noticeably absent from that list: Rep. Rob Andrews. All four members of Congress are said to be interested in an eventual Senate bid of their own, and most have stocked up huge bank accounts in preparation for an eventual run. Through December 31, Andrews held cash reserves of nearly $2.4 million, Pallone had $3.2 million, Pascrell had $1.1 million and Rothman topped out at just over $2 million.

Should Lautenberg have pulled out of the contest, it would have sparked one of the most expensive and contentious Democratic primaries in recent memory. But, given New Jersey's recent electoral history, just because Lautenberg files for re-election does not necessarily mean his will be the name on the ballot come November. For now, though, surrounded by the biggest Democratic names in the state and without a top-tier GOP challenger, Lautenberg is another Democrat heavily favored to keep his seat for another six years.

Unanue To Run In NJ

Businessman Andrew Unanue, who hinted at a possible Senate candidacy last week, will run against incumbent Democrat Frank Lautenberg, he announced in an open letter to state GOP chairman Tom Wilson. Top Republicans in the state are ecstatic that Unanue, a more moderate candidate than State Senator Joseph Pennacchio, will make a bid, though with their excitement comes worry that the party will once again fall short in a state that hasn't elected a Republican Senator since it sent Clifford Chase to Washington in 1972.

Unanue, a former executive at Goya Foods, is seen as the favored candidate of Bergen County GOP chairman Rob Ortiz, a rising star in the state party whose party activists nonetheless backed Pennacchio by a wide margin at their recent convention. Unanue is wealthy enough to help fund his own race in a state the National Republican Senatorial Committee is unlikely to play in, thanks to their own money woes.

Unanue, though a late entry, is also a favorite of NRSC chair John Ensign and Florida Senator Mel Martinez, who each encouraged him to make a bid. The same state and national party leaders had recruited wealthy developer Anne Evans Estabrook to run and, they hoped, spend her own money, but a health concern forced her out of the race.

Early missteps and tight deadlines have some concerned about Unanue's nascent campaign. Without a campaign team, Unanue has to gather the thousands of signatures needed to make it onto the June primary ballot by April 7, less than two weeks away. Fortunately for the new candidate, he's largely inherited Estabrook's organization (callers to campaign headquarters are still told they've reached Estabrook's shop). Still, says one top GOP strategist, there's a challenge ahead. "He's got two weeks to gather his signatures. It's not an insurmountable task, but it's a difficult task," the strategist said, asking for anonymity because of close ties to New Jersey Republicans.

Unanue will be aided by the state's county chairs, who are desperate to avoid Pennacchio at the top of the ticket. The state senator has made controversial comments in the past, and having him head the state's ticket could be harmful to Republican efforts to keep the open Congressional seats of retiring Reps. Jim Saxton and Mike Ferguson.

That relationship with county chairmen could be troubling, though, as they are known for handing business to consultants with losing records of late. "The county chairs funnel business to the same five consulting firms, and the same five consulting firms make sure the county chairs keep getting elected" so the cycle repeats, the strategist said.

Unanue's decision to announce his campaign on Easter Sunday raised concerns as well, and as Pennacchio continues to roll up victories in county conventions around the state, Unanue has yet to make his first campaign appearance. In fact, he made his candidacy public while on vacation with his family in Vail, Colorado, PolitickerNJ reports. That fumble isn't the best way to start an already uphill run for office.

Insiders say it is unlikely the NRSC will fund any advertisements on Unanue's behalf, given the expensive nature of the state and the committee's limited resources. But Unanue remains the best hope Republicans have in the Garden State, even if his is a long-shot bid to begin with.

GOP Close On NJ Recruit

Senate Republicans, in the middle of a disappointing recruiting cycle that has seen a number of potentially strong candidates decline to make challenges to incumbent Democrats, may be close to landing a top target to take on New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, the Bergen Record reports today. If the GOP gets its wish, Lautenberg could face businessman Andrew Unanue, who is taking the weekend to talk the potential race over with family and is likely to make a decision Monday, a prominent GOP chairman told the paper.

Unanue, who runs a financial consulting business and a nightclub in New York City, could invest much of his own money in the race and provide a contrast Republicans would love to see in the Garden State: At 40 years old, and a Hispanic, Unanue would be starkly different than the 84-year old Lautenberg, who is white. The state's junior Senator, Democrat Bob Menendez, won a close race in 2006 largely on the strength of Latino votes.

Unanue would likely run as a moderate, as Bergen County Republican Party chairman Rob Ortiz told the Record, calling the potential candidate a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. He would face off with conservative State Senator Joe Pennacchio and Professor Murray Sabrin, who is running in the mold of libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, in the state's June primary.

GOP leaders in New Jersey have been scrambling to find an alternative to Pennacchio, who once proposed putting homeless people in closed military bases, a notion Sabrin likened to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Developer Anne Evans Estabrook had been the party favorite until a health problem ended her campaign.

Other names being floated include State Senators Diane Allen and Kip Bateman, as well as Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, though Levinson has expressed serious reluctance to get into the race and Allen's health may also be an issue.

Still, actually fielding a strong candidate in New Jersey might prove more of a problem for Republicans than a benefit. With a national party trailing its Democratic counterpart by a wide margin, any hope of significant investment in the state from national sources seems unlikely. Increased turnout in a presidential election year will put the GOP at an even wider disadvantage, and the state is one of the most expensive in which to advertise in the whole country: To capture the entire audience, a candidate has to advertise in both New York and Philadelphia media markets.

That requirement likely gives Unanue a leg up in party leaders' minds. New Jersey can be a black hole for Republican dollars, but it always seems too tantalizing a target to avoid. Lautenberg does not benefit from amazingly strong poll numbers, and he's never won an overwhelming victory in the state.

Med Issue Forces Estabrook Out

The early establishment favorite to take on New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has pulled out of the contest after suffering a minor stroke, leaving a conservative State Senator as front-runner for the Republican nomination. Businesswoman and developer Anne Evans Estabrook announced she would not make the bid in a statement yesterday.

Estabrook said she is "all too familiar with the seriousness of this particular condition." Estabrook's husband died of a stroke, though hers, doctors say, will leave her without any long-term consequences. Lautenberg and Republican rivals Joe Pennacchio, the state senator, and Ramapo College Professor Murray Sabrin all issued statements wishing Estabrook the best of health.

Her exit from the race comes as something of a blow to national Republicans. Senator John Ensign, chair of the NRSC, had given Estabrook's campaign a contribution, drawing fire from Pennacchio and Sabrin for supporting what they called the more moderate candidate. Still, without Estabrook as the Republican nominee, perhaps the NRSC will avoid temptation to spend money in what has, of late, become a black hole for millions of dollars thrown after lost causes.

Lautenberg, at 84 years old, is seeking his fifth Senate term amid what has been a career of lackluster poll numbers. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Lautenberg receiving just 37% of the vote against a generic Republican, who would pull in 30%. His low numbers can be attributed, in some part, to Garden Staters' general disdain for pollsters -- undecided voters are routinely high until just days before the general election -- though Republicans have often decided spending against Lautenberg is a good investment.

With Estabrook out of the race, the GOP may decide their money is better spent in other contests.

Lautenberg Still Low In NJ

A new Quinnipiac University poll again shows New Jersey voters are unwilling to let pollsters know their opinions. Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who has never been the most popular incumbent in his home state, once again finds himself in bad position going into an election year.

The poll, conducted 2/13-18, surveyed 1,803 registered voters for a margin of error of plus or minus 2%. Lautenberg and Senator Bob Menendez, a fellow Democrat, were surveyed.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Lautenberg 37 / 66 / 9 / 29 / 33 / 40 (-2 from last, 9/07)
Generic GOP 30 / 8 / 66 / 29 / 27 / 35 (-6)

Neither Menendez nor Lautenberg have huge favorable ratings. Just 39% say they approve of Lautenberg's job as a Senator, and only 30% approve of Menendez's job performance. In both cases 31% disapprove of the senators' jobs.

But those low numbers are dangerous for Republicans as well as Democrats. New Jersey voters watch television in either the New York or the Philadelphia media markets, making investment in advertisements very expensive. Come October, this race will probably be closer than a ten-point affair, making it an attractive target for the NRSC.

But a week before the election, undecided voters in New Jersey remember they are Democrats, and Lautenberg could pull away, as Menendez did in 2006 and as Governors Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine did during their elections. If Republicans decide to sink a few million dollars in the race late in the cycle, they could do little more than divert that money from more winnable races.

Lautenberg ended 2007 with more than $4.3 million in the bank, though he maintains about $2.1 million in debt. He will likely face either real estate developer Anne Evans Estabrook, who national Republicans appear to favor, or Joe Pennacchio, a conservative state assemblyman. Both could make an issue of Lautenberg's 84 years of age: 58% of respondents said Lautenberg is too old to serve another six years, while just 36% said it was not a concern of theirs.

A Typical NJ Poll

Get used to this: When New Jersey voters are polled about their choice for any office, a large percentage will tell pollsters where they can stick their survey, and in no uncertain terms. The state's electorate is notorious for remaining undecided well into late October, and even early November.

This year, when Senator Frank Lautenberg faces re-election, will be no exception. A new Monmouth University poll, conducted 1/9-13, shows many have yet to make up their mind on a candidate. The poll, of 698 registered voters, tested Lautenberg, developer and former Chamber of Commerce President Anne Evans Estabrook and State Senator Joe Pennacchio.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Lautenberg 40 / 65 / 9 / 39
Pennacchio 25 / 12 / 52 / 26

Lautenberg 38 / 61 / 18 / 32
Estabrook 24 / 3 / 62 / 25

Neither Lautenberg nor Senator Bob Menendez are particularly popular in their home state. Just 43% approve of the job Lautenberg is doing, while Menendez has only a 37% approval rating. But only 28% and 25% disapprove, respectively, meaning Republicans will think they have a chance to pick off a Senate seat and Democrats will think they need to play serious defense.

But New Jersey has proven a tease to Republicans before. Two governor's races and two Senate races, in recent years, have given the GOP what they think is a shot at a victory, and candidates and the party have thrown millions into expensive Philadelphia and New York media markets. But they've come up short each time, as New Jersey voters break late for Democrats.

This year, will Republicans take the bait again and sink more hard-earned cash into what has recently been a sinkhole? Their lack of cash may preclude them from doing so, meaning the GOP will spend its money more efficiently and that Lautenberg could have an easier time than early poll numbers suggest.

Lautenberg Gets An Opponent

Anne Evans Estabrook, a northern New Jersey businesswoman who once chaired the state's Chamber of Commerce, filed papers today with the FEC to challenge Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

A moderate, Estabrook will face a competitive primary with more conservative State Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio. Still, Estabrook begins the primary as the establishment favorite, and she has some big institutional support: Former RNC finance chief Lew Eisenberg will serve as chairman of Estabrook's campaign.

Whether Pennacchio or Estabrook takes the primary, they face an uphill battle against Lautenberg. Sure, a Quinnipiac University poll in September showed Lautenberg leading a generic Republican by just 3%, while his approval rating is only 42% (compared with 34% who disapprove). But New Jersey voters are notorious for refusing to answer polling questions, and for breaking to the Democratic side late.

Another sign the GOP isn't confident about their ability to capitalize on Lautenberg's weakness: Few Republican strategists ever point to the state as even a remote pickup opportunity. After losing close and expensive elections for Senate in 2000 and 2002 and for Governor in 2001 and 2005, Republicans know playing in Philadelphia and New York media markets is not cheap, and the party may decide that, four times bitten, five times shy.