Despite a nationwide trend that shows Democrats enjoying widespread support, a recent McClatchy-MSNBC poll taken Oct. 17-21 shows Menendez only slightly ahead at 45 percent to Kean’s 42 percent.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Kean supporters last weekend he believes the New Jersey race will determine which party controls the Senate. But Republicans face a tough battle and New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican senator in 34 years.
The state’s Democratic Party has been hit recently with corruption scandals and Kean has made ethics the centerpiece of his campaign, attacking Menendez with accusations of ties to corruption in Hudson County. He frequently accuses Menendez of being under federal investigation, a charge Menendez denies.
“We can no longer afford a United States senator that steers hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer monies into his own pocket,” Kean told The Washington Post, referring to rent Menendez received from leasing property to a nonprofit that accepted federal grants.
Menendez has denied any connections with the corruption scandals and focused his campaign on linking Kean to the unpopular policies of the Bush administration while emphasizing his own policies on Iraq.
Menendez originally voted against sending troops to Iraq and was one of only a handful of Democratic senators to call for a timetable to withdraw troops.
“Voters are asking ‘How many more lives, how much more money for an occupation that never was about terrorism?'” Menendez told the Star-Ledger.
Kean has countered by calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but has said he would have voted in favor of the war.
Kean has also benefited from name recognition in this race. His father is the popular former governor of New Jersey and chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean Sr., who has actively helped in the campaign.
With the race so tight, celebrity faces are showing up for both candidates. McCain and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are campaigning for Kean, and former President Clinton and actor Michael J. Fox for Menendez. All are hoping their support will swing voters, and potentially the Senate, on Nov. 7.