Despite the prospect for nasty weather, voter turnout is expected to be higher than usual Tuesday as New Jersey voters decide whether to retain U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and Democrats push for gains to help them take over the House of Representatives.

The statewide ballot will also include one public question, seeking permission to sell $500 million in bonds to pay for school construction projects. Special elections will be held for one state Senate and nine Assembly seats, and various county, municipal and school-board elections will be decided, as well.

But it’s the race for Congress that tops the ballot and consumes the most attention.

The Senate race has been particularly and predictably negative, as Republican nominee Bob Hugin has spent $36 million of his own fortune made as a pharmaceutical executive on the race. Much of it went to ads attacking Menendez, who was nominated despite having been tried on corruption charges that were later dropped after a trial a year ago ended with a hung jury.

Republicans haven’t won a Senate race in New Jersey since 1972, but as polls tightened and Hugin’s financial advantage piled up, analysts at the Cook Political Report shifted their rating of New Jersey’s Senate race to a toss-up on Oct. 26. Other analysts have said Menendez remains favored.

Since Cook’s rating shift, however, the last four public polls of the race have shown a growing lead for Menendez of 8 points to 15 points, depending on the survey.

RealClearPolitics, a polling data aggregation site, shows Menendez with a lead averaging 9 points in pollsters’ most recent surveys.

The final Quinnipiac University poll, released Monday, found Menendez with his largest lead since the spring, 15 points, at 55 percent to 40 percent. Polling analyst Mary Snow said 60 percent of voters last month had said they felt Congress should be more of a check on President Donald Trump.

“This is a blue state where there are more Democrats than Republicans, and indications are that voters want to keep this Senate seat in New Jersey in the ‘D’ column,” Snow said.

Menendez appears to have grown his lead in the last three weeks because of support among independents, who now prefer him by a 14-point margin. Three weeks earlier, Hugin led by 7 points among such voters, who account for a third of the electorate, according to Quinnipiac.

“One of the things we’ve seen in this poll compared to polls that we did last month, we’re seeing independents backing Sen. Robert Menendez in a way they hadn’t in our previous poll,” Snow said.

The election model of the website FiveThirtyEight forecasts that Menendez has a 14 in 15 chance of winning – 93.9 percent to Hugin’s 6.1 percent. It projects Menendez will get 53.8 percent of the vote to Hugin’s 43.2 percent, with the six other candidates on the ballot splitting 3 percent.

Regardless of whether the Menendez/Hugin race turns out close, a lot of national attention will be paid to New Jersey for the outcome of its House races.

New Jersey currently has seven Democrats and five Republicans in the House. All seven Democrats are considered heavy favorites to win re-election, but as many as four of the five GOP-held seats could flip parties.

Analysts from various outlets say Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew is likely to replace retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo in the 2nd District. The race is expected to be closer for the 11th District seat vacated by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, but analysts favor Democrat Mikie Sherrill over Assemblyman Jay Webber.

Two other seats currently held by Republicans in New Jersey are rated a toss-up at best and in some cases titling in favor of Democrats: the 3rd District currently held by Rep. Tom MacArthur, who faces Andy Kim, and the 7th District now held by Rep. Leonard Lance, who faces Tom Malinowski.

“This would be an historic time,” said Monmouth University political scientist Patrick Murray. “If Democrats can flip four of these Republican-held House seats, it will be the first time in over 100 years that the Republican Party has had only one House seat in New Jersey.”

Each major party has had at least five House members in the New Jersey delegation since 1979. Not since 1913 and 1914 has there been only one Republican in Congress from New Jersey. In 1921 and 1922, there was just one Democrat.

“What we’re seeing across the entire Northeast is a blue wave building, as least regionally, which means that the Democrats have pretty good chances in all of these districts,” Murray said. “It’s not like it’s a done deal. Some of them have very strong incumbents. Some of them have strong Republican voting histories. So we’ll see what happens.”

If all four seats were to flip, the Democrats would probably win the House, Murray said.

“We would expect to see seats from Maine to Virginia flip as well,” he said. “It’ll be part of a larger wave, that even if that wave stops at the Appalachian Mountains, there should be enough seats just in the Northeast alone to give the Democrats control of the House if they can flip all four (New Jersey) seats.”

FiveThirtyEight projects 2,799,000 voters to cast a ballot in New Jersey, which would amount to 48 percent of the state’s 5.9 million registered voters.

That would be the largest number of voters in a midterm election in New Jersey history, and as a percentage of registered voters would tie for the largest since 1994, right before the Motor Voter Act took effect that significantly boosted registration.

“I think we’re going to see record-high turnout, even with the bad weather that’s predicted,” said Murray, who noted more than 300,000 vote-by-mail ballots had been cast already as of last week.

“This is part of a national trend that we’re seeing,” Murray said. “Just a lot of high enthusiasm both among Democrats and Republicans means that we’re going to see the highest turnout in a midterm election that we have in decades.”

“I don’t know what the exact number is going to be,” he said. “It’s just going to be unquestionably big.”


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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