Newark Mayor Cory Booker has an overwhelming lead in the Democratic primary for New Jersey's open senate seat, according to the first polls released since a special election was set for later this year.
In a Rutgers-Eagleton poll, Booker took 55 percent of the primary vote, followed by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) at 9 percent and Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) at 8 percent.
A Quinnipiac poll had similar results, with Booker leading at 53 percent of the primary vote, and Holt and Pallone trailing at 10 and 9 percent, respectively. Neither poll included state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who announced her candidacy after the surveys were taken.
Quinnipiac found that Booker would also hold a significant lead in a general election, beating former Bogota, N.J., mayor Steve Lonegan (R) by 54 percent to 27 percent. The other two Democrats led Lonegan by smaller margins: Pallone by 39 percent to 29 percent, and Holt by 36 percent to 31 percent.
Booker's potential opponents, both Republican and Democratic, suffer from their relative anonymity. While a 57 percent majority of New Jersey voters view Booker favorably, according to Quinnipiac, most have yet to form an opinion on his rivals. Sixty-eight percent said they hadn't heard enough about Pallone to have an opinion, while 67 percent said the same of Holt and 62 percent of Lonegan.
"Who are those other guys?" Maurice Carroll, Quinnipiac's polling director, said in a release. "The record shows that Congressmen Frank Pallone and Rush Holt are big in their districts, but, state-wide, no one knows them. Steve Lonegan ... [is] up there with Pallone and Holt on the anonymity scale."
All four candidates, however, were viewed more favorably than unfavorably by those who had heard of them.
New Jersey will hold a special election this year to fill the seat of late Sen. Frank Lautenburg (D-N.J.), who died earlier this month. Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced that a primary election will be held Aug. 13, followed by a general election Oct. 16.
The decision to send voters to the polls twice in less than two months -- the Oct. 16 special election will be followed shortly by the Nov. 5 election in which Christie faces reelection for the governorship -- struck some as a political maneuver to prevent Booker from carrying other Democrats on his coattails. Christie, however, says the choice was made to put an elected senator in office as soon as possible.
Quinnipiac found that 50 percent of voters approve of Christie's decision to hold the election in October, while 40 percent disapprove. Sixty-two percent said his decision was based more on politics than on principles.
Rutgers, which specifically asked whether Christie should have scheduled a special election or included the Senate election in Nov. 5 voting, found significantly less public support for the October date.
Just 12 percent of voters said Christie was right to set a separate special election, while 78 percent said it should have been scheduled for Nov. 5.
The Rutgers poll surveyed 763 registered voters, including 364 registered Democrats and Democratic leaners, by phone between June 3 and June 9. The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 858 registered voters, including 306 Democrats, between June 7 and June 9.