| Research 2000 for Daily Kos (9/17-18, likely voters, no trendlines):
Dennis Shulman (D): 34
Scott Garrett (R-inc): 49
This is the first public poll of the race in New Jersey's fifth congressional district, where Rabbi Dennis Shulman is taking on retrograde wingnut Rep. Scott Garrett. There are a number of things worth pointing out about these results.
On the positive side, Garrett is below the fifty percent mark, which is always troubling for an incumbent. At the same time, his favorables stand at a weak 44-38 - almost as many people dislike him as like him. On the flipside, Rabbi Shulman's favorables stand at 36-26, which means that nearly 40% of likely voters don't yet know who he is. In other words, he has room to grow.
It's exactly that growing room which gives Shulman the chance to make up the fifteen-point gap that R2K says he faces. Shulman's doing pretty well among Dems, winning them at a 72-11 rate, while Garrett is doing ten points better among members of his own party, taking Republicans by 77-6. The real issue, though, is independents. Garrett cleans up here 48-35. The good news for Shulman is that this group is the least familiar with him: fully 45% of indies say they have no opinion of the Democrat - an opportunity, if Shulman can get his name out there.
Those independents are the real X-factor in this poll. They make up a huge 54% of the sample, while Republicans clock in at 27% and Dems at 19%. This is actually pretty close to where registration stood in the district before Super Tuesday. However, Dem registration has shot up since then; I'm told that more recent figures indicate the district's makeup is more like 44I-32R-24D today. But knowing registration numbers is one thing - figuring out who will show up on election day is quite another.
And in that regard, NJ-05 is a bit of an electoral engima. The district voted for Bush in 2004 by what looks like a daunting 57-43 margin. In 2000, however, the margin was half as wide, just 52-45. Why the seven-point shift, when Bush only gained about three nationwide? Most analysts I've discussed this with believe there was something of a "9/11 effect" here, just as there was in many parts of the tri-state area.
If this assessment is accurate, then this right-ward shift may have been temporary. One possible piece of support for this thesis is the presidential head-to-head, which shows McCain leading Obama 52-37. Obama trails past Dem performance quite significantly, but McCain is at Bush 2000 - and not Bush '04 - levels, for the moment. In a red district, though, undecideds are more likely to drift Republican, so McCain's current 52% may not be his ceiling.
One final thought: Neither candidate in the fifth CD (which is covered by the ultra-expensive NYC media market) has gone up on the air yet, so there is plenty of potential for this race to move.