TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – As New Jersey voters head to the polls for Tuesday’s primary, Senator Robert Menendez appears likely to defeat a challenger while other Democrats vie for the chance to flip two Republican-held House seats.
An April poll conducted by Monmouth University found that Democrats in the state have a distinct nearly 20-point advantage over Republicans, who may have suffered a dip due to backlash against President Donald Trump in the blue state.
Seeking to take advantage of this, state Democrats have focused on primary challenges in newly vulnerable Republican districts and rallied around Menendez.
The embattled senator’s seat seems relatively safe in the primary, despite the fact that this time last year Menendez was preparing for a trial on criminal bribery charges.
Softening Menendez’s road to re-election, a jury deadlocked on the case this past November, and prosecutors announced two months later that they would not retry him.
Most experts predict Menendez will defeat publisher Lisa McCormick in Tuesday’s primary, despite poll numbers that suggest an uptick in his disapproval ratings.
Compounding the bad press for Menendez, the Senate Ethics Committee voted in April to admonish the 12-year incumbent.
The Republican side of the aisle has approached the primary as if Menendez has already won it, with frontrunner and former Celgene Corp. executive Bob Hugin calling attention to Menendez’s legal troubles and alleged corruption.
The tighter races are among several House seats, two of which feature outgoing longtime Republicans and opportunities for Democrats to fill the vacuum.
One of the state’s more interesting races is for the 11th District, where Representative Rodney Freleyinghuysen held a seat since 1994.
Given his powerful spot on the House Appropriations Committee, Frelinghuysen caused a stir earlier this year with his announcement that he would not seek re-election. Frelinghuysen, who comes from a well-known wealthy family in New Jersey, came under attack last year when he wrote a letter to Lakeland Bank identifying one of the senior vice presidents as “one of the ringleaders” of an activist group opposed to him.
The congressman faced no punishment for the letter but its interpretation as an overt threat left its mark on his reputation.
On the Democratic side for that district, frontrunner Mikie Sherrill made some headlines earlier this year after raising nearly $3 million and saying President Trump’s attacks on women and minorities inspired her to run due.
A former Navy pilot, Sherrill will compete for the seat against political novice Tamara Harris, a family counselor who has pushed for universal health care.
Republicans meanwhile must decide if they want Freylinghusen’s seat taken over by Peter De Neufville or Jay Webber, a so-called establishment candidate.
After Freylinghusen’s retirement caught them by surprise, the Republican quest for a suitable candidate led De Neufville to enter the race one day before the filing deadline.
Webber by contrast is a six-term New Jersey assemblyman.
Another seat up for grabs is the 2nd District, from which longtime Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo is retiring.
The seat is seen as likely to switch Democratic, though the Democrat leading the polls is described as a conservative who is pro-gun. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey state senator for a decade, has been tapped by party leaders to take the district, long coveted by state Democrats.
Both LoBiondo and Freylinghuysen won their last election by double-digit points in districts carried by President Trump. However, lukewarm support from Republican party leaders for their potential successors have some thinking Democrats could win one or both seats.
Republicans stand a chance to flip a Democratic seat, as well. In the 5th District, Republicans Steve Lonegan and Jonn McCann are battling for the Republican slot to face Josh Gottenheimer in November.
Lonegan has lost several races over the years, including for New Jersey governor, but he is currently seen as the lead dog among Republicans to face the unopposed Gottenheimer and has called the race “the most winnable” he has ever participated in.
Voting ends at 8 p.m. on Tuesday in New Jersey.