U.S. Rep. John Adler is outrunning his Republican challenger, former Eagles tackle Jon Runyan, in New Jersey's tightest congressional race, according to a Rutgers University poll released today.

The freshman Democrat was favored by 31 percent compared to Runyan's 25 percent among 421 registered voters in a survey conducted Aug. 5-8. Third-party candidate Peter DeStefano had 4 percent.

DeStefano, who calls himself a tea party candidate, was not identified as such in the poll. He is running under the moniker "NJ Tea Party."

Tea party groups in the district, which runs through Burlington and Ocean counties and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County, have disavowed DeStefano's candidacy and say that they do not support him.

Rutgers pollster David Redlawsk found that DeStefano - without the tea party identification - took slightly more votes from Adler than Runyan, who is making his first bid for elected office.

Without DeStefano on the ballot, 35 percent of respondants chose Adler compared to Runyan's 28 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

"There's little doubt in my mind that if we called [DeStefano] a tea party candidate that he would pick up a few votes," said Redlawsk, who conducted the poll for the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

He decided not to name DeStefano a tea party candidate because of the controversy surrounding his candidacy and lack of university resources, Redlawsk said.

Within the district, 26 percent of poll respondents said they favored the tea party while 38 percent saw it in an unfavorable light, he said.

Anti-incumbent fervor is sweeping the country, he said.

"It almost doesn't matter which party you are in as an incumbent," Redlawsk said. "There is such a distrust of everybody in Washington that all incumbents need to be careful."

But Adler is benefitting from being the incumbent, even in a historically Republican district, Redlawsk said. He has higher name recognition and more money than Runyan.

So far, Adler has raised more funds than Runyan. The Democrat has raised $2.5 million compared to Runyan's $654,000, of which $300,000 came from the Republican's own pocket.

The party would like to change that. On Tuesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced that it had improved confidence in Runyan's candidacy and promoted him to the top tier of its "Young Guns" program, which signals regular party donors that Runyan is a good bet.