Cory Booker has taken some heat for his decision to pursue the seat held by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), but recent polls have shown the high-profile Newark, N.J. mayor's decision has set well with voters.
A poll from Quinnipiac University on Wednesday showed more than half of New Jersey Democrats identifying Booker as their preferred nominee in a potential 2014 primary matchup against Lautenberg, who was the choice of only 30 percent. It was the second poll this month that showed Democrats in the state backing Booker over Lautenberg for next year's senate race, with a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll showing similar results.
Moreover, the Quinnipiac poll showed that 71 percent of all New Jersey voters believe that his advanced age makes the job of senator too difficult for Lautenberg, who turned 89 on Wednesday. A plurality of voters said he does not deserve to be re-elected.
Those numbers undoubtedly provide a sense of vindication to Booker supporters, but they're hardly the only evidence of Lautenberg's vulnerability.
The Quinnipiac poll showed half of New Jersey voters approved of Lautenberg's performance as senator, but hitting the 50 percent threshold has been something of a rarity for him. Among 2½ years of publicly available survey data compiled by PollTracker, Wednesday's poll marked the first time that Lautenberg's approval rating reached 50 percent.
A November survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling essentially showed a split among his constituents: 43 percent of voters said they approved of Lautenberg, compared with 36 percent who disapproved. The previous two Quinnipiac polls, conducted in November and late-August, showed Lautenberg with approval ratings of 49 percent and 44 percent respectively.
Wednesday's poll from Quinnipiac also suggested that Lautenberg isn't widely beloved by his New Jersey constituents. Forty-two percent said they have a favorable opinion of Lautenberg, 32 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion and 23 percent said they haven't heard enough about him to form an opinion -- both tepid personal popularity and shockingly low name recognition for a man elected to five terms in the Senate.
Those numbers are even more paltry when compared to the individual ratings of two other fellow New Jersey Democrats. Despite never holding statewide office, Booker's profile easily eclipses that of the longtime senator. The popular mayor boasted a favorability rating of 54 percent in Wednesday's poll, with only 16 percent of in-state voters expressing an unfavorable view. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Lautenberg's colleague in the Senate since 2006, topped 50 percent in Wednesday's poll, as well as in previous Quinnipiac surveys conducted in November (56 percent) and October (53 percent).
Booker's decision to run has sparked tension with Lautenberg's camp. An aide to the senator called Booker "self-absorbed and disrespectful" earlier this month, and Lautenberg himself insinuated on Tuesday that Booker deserves a "spanking." But wading through the polls indicates that those views likely represent a minority opinion.