Lautenberg’s poll numbers are awful, but does it really matter?

The Rutgers-Eagleton poll has confirmed what Quinnipiac University said last month: New Jerseyans aren’t sure they want Frank Lautenberg representing them in the United States Senate until he is ninety years old. Lautenberg, who became the oldest New Jerseyan to win a statewide election when he defeated Republican Douglas Forrester by ten perentage points in 2002, is expected to seek re-election to a fifth term next year — when he is 84-years-old. His Eagleton re-elect numbers are horrible — 61% say its time for a change — but New Jersey Democrats aren’t exactly in a panic over a U.S. Senate seat the Republicans have not won since 1972.

So far, Republicans have been careful not to acknowledge that Lautenberg’s age is the underlying issue in the ’08 Senate race — they say the contest will be about Lautenberg’s record. But some pundits say that Lautenberg’s votes are not necessarily out of step with the majority of New Jerseyans, and that age is his true achilles heal. Still, Lautenberg has several tremendous assets: a history of weak poll numbers that don’t seem to jeopardize his electoral success, a hefty campaign warchest, a national political climate that seems to favor Democrats (and a political landscape in Blue Jersey where onetime Republican strongholds like Burlington, Atlantic, Monmouth and even Somerset are tending Democratic), and a lack of top tier Republican contenders.

Lautenberg’s poll numbers are awful, but does it really matter?