(The Center Square) — Congressman Andy Kim is leading New Jersey’s First Lady Tammy Murphy in the Democratic primary race against Sen. Bob Menendez, according to a new poll, which suggests the state’s voters are fed up with the “party boss” system.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of about 500 likely Democratic voters, billed as the first independent survey of the contested Senate primary, found that Kim is ahead of Murphy by 12 points.
Kim, elected to the House in 2019, leads Murphy, wife of Gov. Phil Murphy, by 32% to 20% among likely voters, with 31% saying they are undecided.
Menendez, who is facing multiple federal indictments on bribery and other charges, garnered only 9% of the Democratic voters surveyed in the poll, which suggests he’s likely to take a drubbing in the primary. That’s only slightly better than labor leader Patricia Campos Medina, favored by 8% of the voters.
Menendez, accused of using his power and influence to benefit business cronies and Egyptian and Qatari governments in exchange for cash and gold bars, has not said whether he plans to seek reelection. Other polls have shown voters want him to step down.
Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at FDU, and the poll’s director, said the results also suggest that New Jersey Democrats are tired of the state’s traditional political power structure, and the county-level “party boss” system.
“Generally, institutional support is enough to win a primary in New Jersey,” he said. “With Murphy down, this election is a test of whether county organizations still have the power to choose a candidate.”
New Jersey is the only state that allows candidates to run with the backing of county party chairs or “bosses” and appear on the ballot with a slate of other endorsed candidates, which often helps them win. The system gives county party officials tremendous influence in elections, especially in state primaries.
The poll shows that Kim is favored by Democratic voters identifying as liberals and progressives, while Murphy holds a lead among conservative Democrats.
Murphy has a substantial advantage in name recognition, with 68% of Democratic primary voters saying they know who she is, compared to 52% for Kim, pollsters said. Despite that, Kim has an advantage in favorability, according to the poll, with 24% saying that they “strongly approve” of him.
“The real fight here is between white liberals, who are largely backing Kim, and more moderate Black and Hispanic voters, who are lining up behind Murphy,” Cassino said. “Kim has always run as a centrist candidate, but these liberal voters dislike the county organizations enough that they’ve adopted him as one of their own.”
The FDU poll, conducted between Jan. 21 to Jan. 28, has a 4.5% margin of error.
Despite trailing in the poll, Murphy is ahead of Kim in the money race. Murphy has roped in $3.2 million in contributions since she entered the race in mid-November, compared with $1.7 million raised by Kim during the most recent quarter from Sept. 30 to Dec. 31, according to Federal Election Commission filings.