Poll: Senate race chips away at Booker popularity

Newark Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate, Cory Booker, steps off his campaign bus during a stop at the North Gate Senior Complex in Camden, NJ on August 12, 2013. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )

WASHINGTON – Cory Booker coasted through the Democratic Senate primary, but the race took a toll on his popularity, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll out this morning.

Booker’s favorability rating fell from 61 percent to 57 while his unfavorables jumped from 16 to 23, according to the poll. He still has a healthy 16 point lead (54-38) over Republican Senate nominee Steve Lonegan among likely voters, about identical to what the survey found before the primary.

“Cory Booker appears to be in the driver’s seat after his big primary win, but his personal ratings declined over the course of the campaign,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Steve Lonegan, on the other hand, remains basically unknown to half the electorate after coasting to the GOP nomination.”

Booker, as the Democratic primary’s leader from start to finish, took the brunt of the race’s political attacks. The Newark mayor was assailed for being insufficiently liberal, too close to Wall Street and for too often leaving Newark. Late in the race damaging stories emerged about continued payments from his old law firm and ties to big tech moguls who financed a start-up he partially owns.

While Booker has cast himself as a bipartisan problem solver who would break from the dysfunction in Washington, just 37% of likely voters see Booker as “a new kind of politician,” while 49% see him as more of a typical politician, the poll found. Even among Democrats, just 52 percent said he is a new kind of politician.

Still, his 57 percent favorable rating is a number most New Jersey politicians would love, and few Senators achieve, and Lonegan is largely unknown.

Nearly half – 49 percent – of voters don’t have an opinion of him; 31 percent see him favorably and 20 percent view him unfavorably. That leaves many people who can be influenced by the coming campaign.

Lonegan is set to get an endorsement from Gov. Christie today, but national Democrats have readied a barrage of attacks to highlight some of his most controversial statements, and Lonegan has little money so far to fight back with and spread his message.

Lonegan has focused on attacking Booker’s record in Newark – pointing to high unemployment and continuing struggles with crime – and tying the Democrat to President Obama.

That’s a tough task in New Jersey, where Obama is generally popular, though the poll indicates that it might not be as tough as first thought. Likely voters are less enthusiastic about the president than the state as a whole – 49 percent of likely voters approve of his work, while 43 percent disapprove.

On the president’s health care law, which Booker supports and Lonegan wants to repeal, 44 percent of likely voters want the law thrown out, 47 percent oppose that idea. The likely voters still lean towards Obama, but not as much as might be expected.

The general election is Oct. 16.

The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted from August 15 to 18 and surveyed 696 people likely to vote in the special election. The margin of error is 3.7 percent.


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