Election 2020

Surprise! New Jersey Voters Sour on Sen. Robert Menendez, on Trial for Corruption

Robert Menendez, Alicia Menendez

The only thing more distasteful than a Democrat is a Democrat on trial for corruption. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) may never have been the most popular lawmaker, but a new poll reveals that his corruption trial has done nothing to endear him to his constituents.

Exactly half (50 percent) of New Jersey voters said Menendez does not deserve re-election next year, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. Only 20 percent said the senator should be re-elected, while a full 30 percent said they were undecided.

Menendez’s job approval rating proved similarly toxic for Democrats. Only 31 percent of New Jersey voters approved of his work, while 49 percent disapproved. This was his lowest rating since a nearly even split (30 percent approve, 31 percent disapprove) in February 2008.

Even among Democrats, fewer than half (45 percent) approved of Menendez, with 35 percent disapproving.

Republican Governor Chris Christie remained unpopular in the poll. Three-quarters (79 percent) of the voters in his state disapproved of the job he is doing, while only 16 percent approved. This is the lowest approval rating for any governor in any state surveyed by Quinnipiac University in more than 20 years. Even 61 percent of Republicans disapprove of Christie, with only 31 percent approving.

President Donald Trump was also out of favor in the Garden State. A full 61 percent of New Jersey voters disapproved of Trump’s job, while 32 percent approved. This was actually an improvement since June, when 66 percent of voters disapproved and only 28 percent approved.

While Menendez struggled under deep water, New Jersey’s other senator, Cory Booker (D), remained popular. Fifty-five percent of Garden State voters approved of his job as senator, while only 29 percent disapproved. This was a decrease from June 14, where Booker reached the height of his popularity. At that time, 58 percent of voters approved of him, while 28 percent disapproved.

“This survey was conducted as federal prosecutors opened their case against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez — perhaps poisoning the landscape,” Maurice Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a (under)statement.

“President Donald Trump’s home away from home is his New Jersey golf course,” Carroll added. “but neighborhood doesn’t insure political support. Far from it.”

The Menendez trial began last week, and media outlets went to fascinating lengths to disguise it, and even to hide the Democratic affiliation of this embattled senator. The New York Times did not mention the word “Democrat” once in their article on the trial, and NBC News labeled the senator a “Republican.” According to Newsbusters, NBC hasn’t mentioned Menendez since January, choosing instead to hype the Ted Cruz Twitter non-scandal.

If Menendez is convicted of corruption and bribery and forced to resign, Gov. Christie would be able to appoint a successor. This would likely be one of Christie’s last acts, as the election to replace him approaches. For this reason, Christie might actually nominate himself.

A paltry 3 percent of voters said Gov. Christie should do this. Less than one quarter of New Jersey voters (24 percent) said Christie should appoint someone else. A full 68 percent said Christie — an exceedingly unpopular governor — should wait for the new governor to appoint a senator to replace Menendez. Naturally, 82 percent of Democrats said Christie should allow the next governor to appoint a senator, on the chance that a Democrat were to take office.

Indeed, Democrat Phil Murphy — a 23-year veteran of Goldman Sachs, former ambassador to Germany, and finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee — seems likely to defeat Kim Guadagno — a former sheriff, the first lieutenant governor of New Jersey, and the state’s current secretary of State.

Murphy leads Guadagno in the RealClearPolitics polling average, 55 percent to 30.7 percent. Guadagno is tied to an unpopular governor, and Trump’s unpopularity in the state is unlikely to help her.

Christie’s window to replace Menendez with a Republican is rapidly shrinking, but Menendez also presents a problem for Democrats — not just in New Jersey. If Democrats stand by him, and he is convicted of bribery, the liberal party may struggle in 2018. If Democrats disavow him, the fact remains that Menendez is still a member of their party, and questions will arise as to why the party took so long to shake off his stench.