Commentary

New poll has good and bad news for Andy Kim and Tammy Murphy

Kim leads Murphy 30-20, but lots of undecideds make state of race a mystery

February 2, 2024 6:00 am

Rep. Andy Kim and First Lady Tammy Murphy are seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in June. (J. Scott Applewhite/Getty Images and Edwin J. Torres/ NJ Governors Office)

We have our first independent poll of New Jersey’s increasingly nasty U.S. Senate race, and it’s a mixed bag.

Fairleigh Dickinson University’s poll of likely Democratic primary voters puts Rep. Andy Kim ahead of First Lady Tammy Murphy 32% to 20%.

But the poll says 31% of respondents are undecided, so it remains anyone’s guess whether Kim or Murphy have the advantage here.

There are some hints about where each Democrat is getting their support. Dan Cassino, the poll’s director, told me what surprised him is how deep the division is in the Democratic Party over this race.

“We’ve got basically white liberals and progressives lining up very much in the Kim camp, and African American voters and Latino voters very much in the Murphy camp,” he said. “What that means is that the numbers here really vary depending on what you think turnout is going to look like.”

Poll results — again, respondents here are likely Democratic primary voters — say Kim leads with white voters 47% to 15%, while Murphy beats Kim with African American voters 24% to 16% and with Hispanic voters 26% to 10%.

There’s some bad news to go around.

For Murphy: 13% of respondents say they strongly approve of her, compared to 24% for Kim, while her disapproval rate is at 14%, with Kim at 2%.

For Kim: Among Hispanic respondents, both Sen. Bob Menendez — the indicted incumbent both Kim and Murphy want to oust — and Democratic candidate Patricia Campos-Medina poll as well or better than Kim.

If the turnout looks more like a general election, that’s good for Murphy, but if it’s more like a primary election, Kim has an edge, Cassino said.

“That’s the problem with polling this race,” he said. “We don’t know what the hell turnout’s going to look like.”

Another wrinkle: New Jersey rarely sees competitive primaries for U.S. Senate seats, so we don’t really know what one looks like. The 2018 primary between Menendez and Lisa McCormick ended up being competitive, but no one noticed until all the votes were in. The four-man Democratic primary in 2013 won a lot of attention, but Sen. Cory Booker won it without breaking a sweat, grabbing nearly 60% of the vote with his closest competitor down at 20%. Polling in that race was mostly right about Booker’s support, even with a percentage of undecideds almost as high as in FDU’s new poll.

The Kim and Murphy primary fight has the state’s political watchers obsessed, but Cassino made a point that reveals the disconnect between those of us anxious for every bit of news about the primary and normal people living their daily lives.

“A lot of voters have no idea there’s an election right now,” Cassino said.

Only 124 days until polls close.

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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.”

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