Cory Booker remains atop the Democratic field for the Senate seat currently held by the 89-year-old Frank Lautenberg, but a new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll released on Thursday shows that Democrats won't necessarily rally around the Newark mayor's candidacy if Lautenberg decides to retire before next year's election.
Matched up in a Democratic primary with Lautenberg and three other candidates, Booker earns the support of two-in-five voters, 15 points clear of Lautenberg, who captures a quarter of the vote. Rep. Frank Pallone is at 4 percent, and both state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Rutgers University professor Alan Rosenthal earned 2 percent. Five percent of primary voters prefer someone else, and 22 percent are undecided.
But the poll shows that voters don't want to just hand the seat to Booker if Lautenberg retires. Only 38 percent think the party should rally around Booker as the nominee if Lautenberg retires, while 31 percent say other candidates should get into the race. Another 23 percent of Democratic primary voters say it doesn't matter to them.
Pollsters did not provide Lautenberg's age, but they asked all registered voters if he is "too old to be an effective senator." Just 34 percent agreed that Lautenberg was too old, while 48 percent said he was not. But just a third correctly identified that he was between 80 and 89 years old, with 46 percent saying he was either under 70 or in his 70s. Another 9 percent said Lautenberg was 90 or older, as he will be on Election Day next year.
Booker continues to earn positive marks among the broader electorate, with 55 percent of all registered voters having a favorable opinion of him, versus just 9 percent who view him unfavorably. Lautenberg is also viewed positively: 44 percent favorable, against 23 percent unfavorable.
Longtime television host Geraldo Rivera, who has openly discussed running next year as a Republican, earns mixed marks. A quarter of voters have a favorable opinion of him, and the same number hold an unfavorable opinion. Rivera scores higher among Republicans, perhaps in part due to his work for Fox News since 2001.
Though voters are mixed on Rivera personally, a 51-percent majority say it is "not at all likely" they would vote for him next year if he mounted a GOP bid. Only 9 percent say it's "very likely" they would vote for him, with just another 17 percent saying it is "somewhat likely," and 14 percent "not too likely."
The poll was conducted Feb. 6-10, surveying 697 registered voters. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.7 percentage points. For the subsample of 190 potential Democratic primary voters, the margin of error is plus-or-minus 7.1 percentage points.