Most political pundits have all but anointed Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker as New Jersey's next U.S. Senator, but somebody forgot to tell the voters.

Steve Lonegan (Lonegan campaign)

A new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows Republican Steve Lonegan might be making this a race after all.

In a pre-primary poll of registered voters, Booker enjoyed a 25-point lead over Lonegan. Today's survey of likely voters shows the conservative Republican has trimmed Booker's edge to just 12 points (53-41-percent).

"Maybe that 'show horse vs. work horse' charge from Republican Steve Lonegan is having an impact," says Mickey Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "While we can't make a direct comparison between registered voters and likely voters, Mayor Cory Booker did have a 54 - 29 percent registered voter lead over Lonegan in Quinnipiac University's August 7 pre-primary survey."

Women support Booker (60-34 percent), but men are divided. Forty-eight percent are in Lonegan's corner while 46 percent favor Booker. New Jersey has roughly 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans so the independent vote is crucial. Today's poll shows independents are also split. Forty-seven percent back Booker and 44 percent support Lonegan.

As you might expect both candidates get overwhelming partisan support. Booker leads 91 - 4 percent among Democrats, while Republicans go for Lonegan 86 - 11 percent. Most, but not all likely voters are locked into their choice. Only five percent remain undecided and another 5 percent of those who name a candidate say there's a "good chance" they will change their mind in the next three weeks.

"Today's results could be driven by the bad news about Newark crime, plus the publicity about Booker's business ventures, but if it's not a blow-out, it still looks like a comfortable lead for Booker," explains Carroll. "New Jersey is a blue state and it hasn't elected a Republican senator, let alone a conservative one, since Sen. Clifford Case in 1972."

The gap is being closed by Lonegan despite the fact that more likely voters than not feel Booker has more of what they're looking for in their next U.S. Senator. By a margin of 46-36 percent they think that Booker understands their problems better than Lonegan. They also believe that Booker is more honest and trustworthy (40-32 percent) and they're convinced that Booker has the best experience (44-36 percent).

The poll also examines the liberal v. conservative numbers. Thirty-three percent say Lonegan is too conservative while 3 percent actually say he is too liberal and 39 percent say he is "about right." Booker is too liberal, 35 percent of voters say, while 2 percent say he is too conservative and 49 percent say he is "about right."

This is the first survey of likely voters by Quinnipiac University in the campaign for the special U.S. Senate election scheduled for Oct. 16.

From Sept. 19 - 22, Quinnipiac University surveyed 948 New Jersey likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percentage points.