Menendez For Senate - Kicking Off The Campaign

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos and Blue Jersey. Bumped--Chris)

This is an incredibly exciting week for all of us here at the Menendez campaign. While we've been hard at work for some time now, we're just starting to work at the new headquarters in New Brunswick and are "officially" launching the campaign today with two events in North and South Jersey. Even though New Jersey's considered a "blue" state and Senator Menendez has something of an incumbency advantage, this race is far from over. The rightists have been crowing, for example, over poll numbers that indicate a tight race, or even a lead for Kean Jr.

However, the polls they've been citing have largely been from partisan Republican firms like Strategic Vision and Rasmussen. In fact, the GOP's clamoring for bona fide good news in this race has even caught the attention of Media Matters, which has repeatedlycriticized the partisan Republican Beltway media for pushing absurdly pro-Kean Jr talking points. Meanwhile, truly independent polling forms like Quinnipiac have shown Senator Menendez in the lead.

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Standing Up To Big Oil

(Cross-posted at Blue Jersey and Daily Kos.)

In my first official post as a Menendez for Senate staffer, I'm really excited to announce the launch of StandUpToBigOil.com. As many of you have probably heard by now, Senator Menendez is fighting back against Big Oil and their allies in the Republican Congress. The Menendez plan will force Big Oil to foot the bill for a 60-day suspension of the federal gas tax to ease the burden of outrageous prices at the pump. Senator Reid and the DSCC have been touting the Menendez plan for a few weeks now, and it really seems to be gaining traction.

Here's the proposal, in a nutshell. As both retail gas prices trend upward with no relief in site, the federal gas tax -- currently $0.184 per gallon -- would be suspended for 60 days, ideally during the traditionally high-priced summer driving months. This tax holiday would be revenue neutral, however, as it's paid for by a repeal of the tax breaks and corporate welfare Republicans have made sure to protect for their cronies in Big Oil. Even though word of the Menendez proposal has made its way around the netroots, this is an important point that's been too often overlooked. Senator Menendez is going to stand up to Big Oil and make them pay for real relief at the pump.

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Taking A Leave

It brings me great pleasure (and a little bit of sadness) to tell you all that I will be taking a bit of a hiatus from MyDD to work full time on the campaign of Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Since his appointment to the Senate early this year, Senator Menendez has done nothing but impress me. He was the first member of Congress to stand up and say no to the Dubai ports deal. He's stood up to credit card companies, putting forward a Credit Card Bill of Rights in the Senate to protect consumers. And right now, he's heading up efforts to ease the immediate financial burden on Americans at the pump while also focusing on the long-term prospect of achieving real energy security.

The national GOP has pledged limitless support for the Senator's challenger, Tom Kean Jr. Already, national Republicans like Dick Cheney and John McCain have been dropped into the state to raise money for Kean Jr, who's focusing his campaign on the Kean family name. In fact, he's running a campaign based largely on his father's name, going so far as to drop the "Jr" from all of his campaign materials. In the "about" section of Tom Kean Jr's own website, he doesn't list accomplishments in state government at the top of his biography. The page lists his family connections first -- his grandfather the Congressman and his father the Governor. Even scrolling down the page, aside from some volunteer posts, awards, and committee memberships, there's nothing to indicate that Kean Jr is either ready or worthy to represent the state of New Jersey in the United States Senate. It's no wonder the DSCC has declared Tom Kean Jr to be Too Junior For Jersey.

Despite the fact that right wing Republicans from all across the country have been backing Kean Jr behind the scenes, he's still pretending to run as one of those rarest of endangered animals, a "moderate" northeastern Republican. But on the issues, he's made it clear that he's interested in going to Washington for one thing and one thing only -- to be another rubber stamp for George W. Bush and the national Republican agenda. He's already indicated that he supports a "stay the course" non-strategy for Iraq and wants to make the Bush tax cuts (whose benefits he greatly enjoys) permanent. And his voting record is actually among the most partisan in the New Jersey State Senate.

I've decided to focus all of my attention on the Senate race and take a hiatus from MyDD until after the election is over. I'll be popping in from time to time as a representative of the campaign, of course, especially since we're counting on solid support from the netroots. The Republicans have declared New Jersey one of top Senate target. Political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg went so far as to call the seat "the Republicans' best Senate takeover opportunity" in an interview with The Washington Times. I respectfully disagree, but I do admit that this race will be anything but a cakewalk. (To be fair, I should note that Rothenberg seems to have backed off a bit on that.)

Before I go, I want to thank Jerome and Chris for bringing me aboard last summer, as well as Matt and Jonathan, and all of the people here who are part of the MyDD community. I'm lucky to have been given access to such an awesome platform and I won't soon forget it. This site truly is something special and I look forward to working with everyone here from a slightly different perspective in the months leading up to the election. In the meantime, feel free to visit me at Menendez for New Jersey, where we're going to be implementing some exciting new changes over the coming weeks that I'm sure you'll be hearing about. It's going to be an exciting race.

NJ-Sen: Who's Kean Jr Running Against?

Tom Kean Jr doesn't seem to realize that it's Senator Bob Menendez he's challenging this year and not former Senator, now Governor Jon Corzine. Bill Albers of PoliticsNJ highlights the fact that Kean Jr's become something of a broken record when it comes to campaign messaging, not attacking something Menendez has said or done, but rather focusing on Governor Corzine's budget plans.

"It's a good message, and it's a safe one too," says a Republican consultant who insists that focusing on the tax issue will keep Kean out of a lot of trouble until after the June primary....

Not everyone seems to think hammering away on taxes is the best way to beat U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez in the fall campaign - as one key Democrat put it, New Jerseyans aren't burning Corzine in effigy in the streets like they did with Jim Florio fifteen years ago.

To understand what's going on here in New Jersey, it's helpful to have a bit of background on the state's budget problems. Essentially, a tax revolt against Democratic Governor Florio essentially ended his career, and made way for a Republican Governor who cut taxes, borrowed billions, and mostly maintained the status quo on spending. Ever since, Democrats in the state have been too nervous to actually do anything meaningful to right the state's financial ship. That is, until Governor Corzine, whose budget plans have been met with fear from politicians on both sides of the aisle, and begrudging acceptance, if not support, from state residents.

Kean Jr, who serves in the state Senate, thinks he's got a surefire winning issue in railing against the Corzine budget. After all, complaining about taxes worked in a statewide campaign for Christie Todd Whitman. And the strategy would make sense -- if Kean Jr was running for state office. But since he's running for the US Senate, it's a bit silly. Senator Menendez doesn't actually have anything to do with setting the state budget. It gets especially silly when Kean Jr shows that it's the only issue he can talk about.

Kean may even be showing a little too much discipline in staying on message, as evidenced today when he was asked a question dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency and local pollution.

A realtor in the audience asked the State Senator a question about increasing cancer rates in her community, and Kean began his answer by talking about taxes.

That anecdote speaks pretty much for itself.

There's been a lot of hype lately about this race being closer than many expected. Chris even called the state "already competitive" in his April Senate Forecast earlier today. Based on the polling, he's perfectly justified in that. However, there's reason to think that the polling is off. The two pollsters that have repeatedly shown Kean Jr in the lead were Rasmussen -- a Republican firm whose methods some have questioned -- and Fairleigh Dickinson -- whose polling of last year's gubernatorial race was wildly skewed in favor of the Republican candidate, Doug Forrester. While Chris pointed to other factors as to why the race is "not a 'likely pickup' for Republicans" (namely Menendez's fundraising advantage and "the large number of undecideds"), the odd polling further supports that conclusion for me.

Tom Kean Jr and the NJGOP are going to try to make this race a referendum about Jon Corzine and state taxes. They'll have to. Nationwide, the midterm election is likely to be a referendum about George W. Bush. In a state as progressive as New Jersey, it'll be a pretty daunting task to shift the focus off of Bush and onto the state budget, especially in an election for federal office. This race will definitely be at least somewhat competitive. But I'd suggest that anyone who's worried about it being very competitive ought to take a look at Kean Jr and his campaign. It's been decidedly less than thrilling.

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NJ-Sen: Interesting Poll Numbers on Menendez, Kean Jr Race

Something many of us have long been assuming, that a decent number voters are confusing GOP Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr with his ex-Governor father, has been confirmed by the latest Eagleton Poll from Rutgers University. Menendez leads the poll overall, with 40% to 35% for Kean Jr among registered voters. Naturally, the numbers only get better for Menendez when you filter out the voters who have their Tom Keans mixed up.

The percentages of voters who think Tom Kean Jr served as Governor of New Jersey or was a member of the 9/11 Commission are 12% and 11%, respectively. When their preferences are removed from the results, Menendez's lead goes up to 42% to 33%. And it's not just the Kean confusion that skews the numbers. As the Eagleton press release notes, "[t]hose who were more knowledgeable about politics showed a very different pattern of responses than those who were less knowledgeable."

Menendez's lead of 36% to 34% among independent voters grows to 42% to 38% among the more knowledgeable independent voters. Voters give Kean a three-point edge, 31% to 28%, over Menendez in terms of being the candidate who would make the best decisions to protect New Jersey against a terrorist attack. However, the more knowledgeable voters give the advantage to Menendez by a margin of 39% to 33%.

"This poll suggests Kean gains from the voters' lack of information and could be in trouble as voters become more familiar with the candidates," Edelman said.

The terrorist attack numbers are quite interesting to me. Just under 700 New Jerseyans died on 9/11, so there's a palpable sense here among some that another attack is just a real possibility, especially at Port Newark or at one of the New York/New Jersey crossings. Sen. Menendez has made port security a real priority, and people have been taking notice. Kean Jr's done nothing but articulate rubber-stamp support for Bush's stay the course non-plan of action.

But perhaps the most interesting set of numbers is the preference of male voters in the state. While Democrats traditionally do better among female voters and Republicans among men, the two are virtually tied among women, 37% to 36%. But Menendez has a significant lead, 43% to 34% among male voters. I'm not quite sure why this is. Off the top of my head, the only thing I can come up with is that Sen. Menendez is a guy from humble beginnings, while Kean Jr is a pampered prep school kid. But that's just my guy impression and I don't really know.

This is a really great poll chock full of interesting numbers on the Senate race. Finally, someone asked some of the questions I've been dying to learn the answers to. To my pleasant surprise, my assumptions have by and large been proven true. Though it's early, I sense in this poll some indication that the numbers are going to keep trending in Menendez's direction. Good news for New Jersey.

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