Name-brand politics in N.J. senate race

A new Wall Street Journal/Zogby poll shows Democratic Reps. Robert Menendez and Rob Andrews trailing Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. in a possible Senate race next year in New Jersey.

A new Wall Street Journal/Zogby poll shows Democratic Reps. Robert Menendez and Rob Andrews trailing Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. in a possible Senate race next year in New Jersey.

In a mock match-up with Menendez, Kean, the son of former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, wins 43 percent versus 34 percent. Against Andrews, Kean captures 46 percent compared to the Democrat’s 36 percent.

The survey — which was released earlier this week and has been eclipsed by New Jersey’s ongoing gubernatorial battle — also shows acting Gov. Richard Codey (D) beating Kean, but Codey has repeatedly said he has no plans to enter the Senate race.

Codey took the reins after Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) stepped down last year amid allegations that he had an adulterous affair with another man. The acting governor remains the president of the state Senate, under a provision of the state Constitution.

The U.S. Senate race will be largely shaped by the governor’s election, next month.

If Sen. Jon Corzine, the Democratic nominee, beats Republican Doug Forrester, Corzine will pick his successor in Washington. The new senator must then run for a full, six-year term in 2006.

Menendez, Andrews and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) top Corzine’s list of possible replacements, New Jersey Democrats say. Corzine has given no indication of whom he would pick.

If Corzine loses to Forrester, Corzine would have the option of seeking a second Senate term in 2006. He leads Forrester in the polls by eight or nine points; in recent weeks, the race his tightened.

Kean has already committed to run for the Senate seat — whether that means challenging Corzine himself or an incumbent appointed by him, or, some Republicans muse, running for an open seat in the event that Corzine loses the gubernatorial race and opts not to seek reelection to the Senate.

Kean’s campaign manager, Evan Kozlow, characterized the state senator, 37, as a problem solver who would welcome campaign visits on his behalf from President Bush, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Kozlow added that the governor’s race would help catapult his candidate into Corzine’s seat. “I think that a rising tide lifts all ships, and I think Doug Forrester becoming governor of New Jersey will begin a much-needed trend that will continue through with Senator Kean,” he said.

Kozlow said he was unaware of whether Kean backs a federal, nonpartisan investigation of Washington’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which has been opposed by leading Republicans. Former Gov. Kean received plaudits from around the globe for serving on the panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Kean the candidate was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Democrats in Washington and across New Jersey said they are focused on the gubernatorial race for the next four and a half weeks. It would be presumptuous of Corzine, they added, to weigh in on the Senate race — and whom he would like to fill his shoes — before the voters have had a chance to pick a new governor.

“We still have 34 days left in the race, and nothing’s for sure,” said Andrew Poag, spokesman for the state Democrats’ coordinated campaign, Victory 2005, which helps candidates from the governor’s contest to local races.

Still, Democrats are aware that Menendez and Andrews could face rocky shoals if either of them were to wind up in a head-to-head race against Kean.

“There’s some concern in some quarters that the state may not be ready for somebody with a ‘z’ at the end of his name to be in the U.S. Senate, which is sad,” a New Jersey Democratic source said. “Jersey is a liberal state. It’s a solid blue state. But there are some racial tensions out there. The general public … they haven’t dealt with a Latino candidate at the top of the ticket before.”

The Democratic source added: “The 800-pound gorilla in this thing is Codey. His name ID is higher than everybody else’s. He would be the strongest candidate.”

Menendez spokesman Matthew Miller said Menendez is not commenting on the Senate race at this time but did cite a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll showing him with higher name recognition than the six other Democrats in New Jersey’s House delegation.

In a memo on the Senate race circulated by Menendez last week, the congressman said Kean was using his family name to try to get elected to the Senate. “There is a long history of sons of famous politicians entering races with substantial name ID due to voter confusion,” the memo states. Menendez lists, for example, President Bush.

He omits Democrat Bob Casey, the state treasurer challenging Sen. Rick Santorum (R) in neighboring Pennsylvania. Casey’s father, the late Bob Casey, was a former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania.