Menendez lead over Kean Jr. growing

Menendez lead over Kean Jr. growing
October 22, 2006 Gannett

Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez appears to have opened a significant lead over Republican challenger Tom Kean Jr. as voters focus more on the war in Iraq and the GOP's congressional scandals.

The latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll shows Menendez's lead at nine percentage points. Nearly half of the likely voters, 48 percent, said they would vote for Menendez, while 39 percent said they would vote for Kean.

Menendez's voters are more committed to him, as 37 percent of likely voters said they were sure they would vote for Menendez, up nine points since September. Less than 3 in 10 said they were sure they would vote for Kean, unchanged since September.

The results come a month after a Monmouth University poll showed Kean with a six-point lead.

Patrick Murray, the Monmouth University polling director, said that a month ago, state corruption issues weighed more heavily. The guilty plea by former Democratic political boss John A. Lynch Jr. and the new book by former Gov. James E. McGreevey had depressed results for Democrats.

But those problems now pale in comparison to the Iraq war and scandals in Congress, Murray said.

"The Kean strategy peaked early with Lynch and McGreevey," Murray said. "If the election had been held then, he would have won. But (U.S. Rep.) Mark Foley is on the front page. (U.S. Rep.) Curt Weldon in Philadelphia is in trouble. It's not a good time to be a Republican."

In the poll, 38 percent said Menendez shared their views on the Iraq war, compared with 3 in 10 for Kean.

"I will vote for anybody who is against the war in Iraq at this point," Nicole Tay of Raritan Township said about why she is voting for Menendez.

On other issues, three in ten voters said Menendez shared their views on immigration, much higher than the 18 percent who said the same about Kean.

Twice as many voters said Menendez, rather than Kean, understood the problems of average New Jerseyans.

"I'm a Democrat and I appreciate that he (Menendez) is supporting the teacher's unions because I'm a teacher," said Cindy Feder of Warren Township. "I don't think Tom Kean Jr. has enough experience yet. Too young."

But Kean led, by 10 percentage points, on the question of which candidate has high ethical standards.

"I think he (Kean) would be good for the state, he has strong morals and is a very ethical man and I think that's what the state needs," said Bridgewater resident Kathy Tober.

And some voters will be voting for Kean just because of party affiliation.

"My opinions of him (Kean) aren't very high at all, but they are a little higher than of Menendez. I don't want to see Nancy Pelosi become (Speaker of the House). There is no other choice," said John Fitzgerald of Manville.

"I just took him (Kean) out of the two," said Richard Seibert of Readington. "Because I'm a Republican."

The Monmouth/Gannett poll also showed that two-thirds of the voters believe the campaign has been too negative. Although most blamed both Kean and Menendez for the tone, nearly 30 percent blamed Kean more, while 16 percent blamed Menendez.

"If your campaign is based what's going to bring down your opponent, there has to be fairly credible evidence and it must probably come from a third party" such as law enforcement, Murray said.

Michael P. Riccards, executive director of the Hall Institute, a public policy think tank in Trenton, said Kean has not done a good job of explaining his positions in television and radio appearances.

"Kean is not terribly articulate," Riccards said. "I think he had a terrible time in that radio debate a few days ago. He's expressed his one view, which is on the ethics question."

Hall Institute has posed issues questions to the candidates, which they have responded to in detail. Those questions and answers can be found at:

Kean spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker took issue with the methodology of the Monmouth University poll.

She said Kean campaign polls showed Kean with a slight lead. "We're confident we have the momentum heading into election," she said.

Menendez spokesman Matthew Miller said the voters have turned off Kean's attacks on Menendez.

"Tom Kean Jr. has offered the most negative campaign in the state's history, and the voters are rejecting it," he said.

Still, there are undecided voters.

"To tell you the truth I don't know much about it yet," said Magdalena Weglarska of Union Township, Hunterdon County. "I'm waiting to research and am still iff-ish."

The poll was conducted by telephone with 396 likely New Jersey voters from Oct. 16 to 19. The poll carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Gannett New Jersey Newspapers include the Asbury Park Press, the Courier-Post, the Home News Tribune, The Courier News, the Daily Record, the Daily Journal and the Ocean County Observer.

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