By Keith Brown
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, fresh off a U.S. Senate Democratic primary win, is in a familiar position in the latest polls: leading his GOP opponent by double digits.
Booker leads Republican nominee Steve Lonegan 54 to 38 percent among likely voters, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll released Tuesday morning.
The results are similar to a June poll which put Booker ahead of Lonegan 53 to 37 percent in what was then a theoretical matchup.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute said Booker is “in the driver’s seat,’’ in the run-up to the Oct. 16 special Senate election.
“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. Steve Lonegan, on the other hand, remains basically unknown to half the electorate after coasting to the GOP nomination,” Murray said.
Booker’s personal ratings stand at 57 percent favorable to 23 percent unfavorable among likely voters, with 20 percent having no opinion. The numbers are down from June when Booker’s ratings were 61 percent favorable to 15 percent unfavorable, the poll said.
Lonegan is not as well-known as his opponent, with personal ratings at 31 percent favorable to 20 percent unfavorable, and 49% offering no opinion. That’s mainly
unchanged from the 34 percent favorable to 20 percent unfavorable rating he held in June, according to the poll.
Booker gets more positive ratings from Republicans – 27 percent -- than Lonegan gets from Democrats – 5 percent, the poll says.
Independents score each contender about equally, with Booker getting 49 percent favorable and 27 percent unfavorable ratings. Lonegan scores a 37 percent favorable to 14 percent unfavorable rating from Independent voters, according to the poll.
Booker’s efforts to brand himself as a new kind of politician are falling on deaf ears, however. Just 37 percent of likely voters see Booker as a new kind of politician, while 49 percent see him as typical.
Only Democrats – 52 percent -- are likely to agree with the Booker campaign message that he is a new kind of politician. Most Republicans – 60 percent -- and independents – 55 percent -- say he is typical.
Lonegan has pinned his hopes on making the race a referendum on President Barack Obama,and specifically the Affordable Care Act, but that may be an uphill climb, the poll says.
Obama’s job performance ratings among likely voters stands at 49 percent approval, with 43 percent disapproving. More likely voters want to keep Obamacare than abolish it – 47 percent to 44 percent. Lonegan has vowed to vote to abolish the law if elected.
Lonegan does have a small chance to turn the tide of the election, however, Murry said.
Among voters who are either undecided or have indicated they may change their mind about their vote, Obama stands at a negative 41 percent approve to 46 percent disapprove. This subset of voters is also slightly more likely to want their Senator to vote to overturn Obamacare than not – 42 percent to 37 percent. This group of potential switchers makes up less than one-fourth – 22 percent -- of the likely electorate in October, the poll says.
“There is still an outside chance that the dynamics of this race could turn in Lonegan’s favor. But it would take a sea change in partisan turnout to do it,” Murray said.
The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by telephone from August 15 to 18, with 696 New Jersey voters likely to vote in the October special election. This sample has a margin of error of 3.7 percent.