Take it from Christie Todd Whitman, a former governor.
"Politics in New Jersey is not for the faint of heart," Whitman says.
Bob Menendez knows that. A longtime Congressman who was appointed to the Senate, he was supposed to be a shoe-in to keep the seat. But then along came Republican state senator Tom Kean Jr.
"I grew up in a household that valued public service and firmly believed that one person could make a difference," Kean Jr. says.
If the Sopranos are New Jersey's fictional first family of crime, the Keans are definitely the state's first family of politics. They've been in the game since the American Revolution. Junior's father, Tom Kean Sr., was elected governor of New Jersey twice and could have been elected again and again if not for term limits.
New Jersey voters love Tom Kean, the father. They're not sure about the son just yet.
"He and I don't agree on every issue," the elder Kean says, referring to his son. "I didn't agree with my father on every issue. I don't agree with my wife on every issue."
New Jersey voters haven't elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 34 years, when Tom Kean Jr. was 4 years old. But scandal has wracked the state's Democratic Party.
"The people of this state are crying out for change. They are crying out for reform," the younger Kean says.
Menendez says his opponent is just using smear tactics to hide a right-wing agenda.
"He supports the war. He supports privatizing Social Security, something I oppose. He opposed increasing the minimum wage in New Jersey," Menendez says.
But the latest polls have Kean ahead. The Republican Party smells blood and is helping him raise money. However, when Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney hosted fundraisers for Kean, Junior didn't show. Why? Because Bush isn't popular in New Jersey, and Kean knows it.
So, would Kean want President Bush to campaign for him?
"The President has got an open invitation to come to this state," he says, adding that "of course" he would like him to come. But for Kean, a photo op with his father might well be more useful than a visit from the President of the United States when it comes to winning this race.