Republicans got another breath of fresh air today when the Cook Political Report moved the New Jersey Senate race to tossup status. Senator Bob Menendez, the Democrat incumbent, has been saddled with ethics problems that give the Republicans a chance to flip his seat in this dark blue state.
Sen. Menendez had been charged with granting political favors in exchange for donations. He was acquitted on some charges last January after a jury failed to reach a verdict on the 18 counts against him last year. The Justice Department declined to retry Menendez on the other counts and dropped the charges. After his acquittal, the Senate Ethics Committee admonished Menendez in April for accepting gifts without proper approval. Despite his legal problems, Menendez won the Democratic primary with 62 percent of the vote.
Menendez began the race with a 20-point advantage over Bob Hugin, a healthcare CEO, but the Republican challenger has closed the race to single digits. The most recent public poll, posted on Oct. 24, gave Menendez a five-point lead. Menendez leads in the Real Clear Politics average by 7.7 points.
Other forecasters have not followed Cook’s lead in moving the race toward the Republicans. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball still rates New Jersey as “likely Democrat” and FiveThirtyEight’s forecasting model makes Menendez a heavy favorite with a 90 percent chance of winning and an estimated vote share of 53 percent.
Even if Menendez ultimately holds onto his seat, the tightening race means that Democrats will have to pour more money and effort into retaining a seat that should have been secure. That means that fewer resources will be directed toward the tossup for races for Republican seats that Democrats need to win in order to build a Senate majority.
Originally published on The Resurgent