U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) is leading Republican challenger Dick Zimmer, but voters remain concerned about Lautenberg's age, and fewer than half approve of how he's doing his job, according to a poll released today.
Lautenberg leads Zimmer, a former congressman, 47 percent to 38 percent, according to the Quinnipiac University poll.
Forty-six percent of those polled thought Lautenberg was doing a good job. He gets the modest approval rating because he "has been around a long time, made some political enemies, and there are people who just don't like him," said Clay Richards, the poll's assistant director.
But Richards said the four-term senator's "biggest advantage - as always - is a lack of a serious candidate, and that is the case again."
He said Zimmer is not a serious candidate - yet - because 67 percent of the poll's respondents said they didn't know enough about him to form an opinion.
Zimmer's spokesman Ken Kurson took a brighter view of the poll, saying that, while his candidate isn't well known, most of those who do know him, like him. Twenty-one percent of those polled said they had a favorable impression of Zimmer, while 11 percent had an unfavorable impression.
New Jersey voters last elected a Republican to the Senate in 1972.
Lautenberg survived a bruising primary race against Camden County Democratic U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, spending $3 million to turn him back.
"Once voters begin tuning in after Labor Day, they will recognize how hard the senator has fought for them," said Julie Roginsky, a Lautenberg spokeswoman.
While Lautenberg's campaign says he beat back the age issue when he won the June 3 primary, voters still seem to be concerned. The poll found that 54 percent said he was too old to be effective in another six-year term.
Lautenberg is 84 and would be 90 when the next Senate term ends. Zimmer is 63.
The poll of 1,473 New Jersey voters was conducted between June 5 and June 8, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
Summer general-election polls generally show that New Jersey voters like to "flirt" with Republicans in statewide races but, by November, support Democrats, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.