A rematch between Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and New Jersey state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R) in 2012 would be a competitive one, according to a new poll out Wednesday.
Numbers from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling show Menendez with just a slight edge over Kean in a hypothetical 2012 general election match up. Menendez leads 41 percent to 39 percent.
In 2006, Menendez easily beat back a challenge from Kean, defeating the Republican by a nine-point margin in what was generally a lousy national environment for Republicans.
But Menendez's approval numbers are now below 40 percent. The poll found just 37 percent approve of the job the Democrat is doing, while 38 percent disapprove. Independent voters in the state also give Menendez low marks — just 32 percent approve.
It leaves the door open for a Republican to make a real run at Menendez, but the party needs to find a candidate. Political insiders in the state say Kean, the son of a popular former governor, is mulling another bid ahead of 2012, but Republicans appear to have few other options.
PPP also found Menendez with a solid lead over another two rumored GOP contenders — TV host Lou Dobbs and the state's newly elected Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Menendez leads Dobbs 47 percent to 35 percent, while the Democrat holds an even large lead over Guadagno — 45 percent to 30 percent.
Pollster Tom Jensen points out that while Menendez's numbers suggest he's in real trouble in 2012, "New Jersey is not like most places. [Former Gov.] Jon Corzine persistently had a disapproval number in the upper 50s, far greater than Menendez's 38%, and trailed by double digits in most polls up until the last two or three months of the campaign in 2009."
Corzine ended up losing to Republican Chris Christie by just four points.