Newark Mayor Cory Booker has a crushing early lead in the New Jersey Senate race and is by far the best known in the Democratic field to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday.
Booker made his bid in the October special election official over the weekend, and he begins the two month sprint ahead of the August 13 primary with a substantial edge, taking 53% in a three-way contest against Rep. Rush Holt, who takes 10%, and Rep. Frank Pallone, who registers 9%. New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who also indicated over the weekend she will run in the special election, wasn't included in this poll, but 23% remain undecided.
The social media-savvy mayor is the best known in the field, too, with a 57% favorable rating and just a quarter having no opinion yet of the Democratic frontrunner. Sixty-eight percent say they haven't heard enough of Pallone yet to have an opinion, with 67% say the same about Holt. Booker also received the backing of powerful New Jersey political broker George Norcross, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Petitions with 1,000 signatures to get on the August ballot are due Monday at 4 p.m., and, so far, conservative activist Steve Lonegan, who unsuccessfully ran against Gov. Chris Christie in the 2009 gubernatorial primary, is the only Republican who has indicated he'll run.
Booker has a substantial advantage over Lonegan in a general election match-up, 54% to 27%. The other less well-known Democrats also start with hypothetical leads, but the margin is much slimmer. Holt leads Lonegan 36% to 31%, while Pallone is up 39% to 29%.
Christie has been criticized on both sides of the aisle for deciding to hold a costly October special election to replace Lautenberg, and his interim pick for the seat, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa will officially be sworn in on Monday.
But Christie's decision hasn't cost him in the polls or impacted his own re-election, according to the Quinnipiac poll. Christie still holds a 30-point lead over Democrat challenger Barbara Buono in the November election, virtually unchanged from two months ago, and still has a 63% favorable rating, including 71% among independents, with 69% of voters approving of the job he's done as governor. Sixty-five percent say he deserves to be re-elected.
Fifty percent said they approved of Christie's decision to hold an October special election, with 40% disapproving, and 58% said they agreed with Christie's insistence that the special vote should be as soon as possible.
But, voters are still split on Christie's motives behind setting the date. A 48% plurality said they agree that Christie decided not to hold the Senate special concurrently with his own election out of concern that it could help Buono, with 39% disagreeing with that belief. And 62% said they believed his decision on the October date was ultimately based more on politics than principle.
The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 858 registered voters June 7-9 with a +/-3.4% margin of error, and a subset of 306 Democratic registered voters, with a +/-5.6% margin of error.