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Menendez, Kean Slug It Out In N.J.

robert menendez and tom kean jr. new jersey
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U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and Republican challenger Tom Kean Jr. have each secured four newspapers endorsements in their race to represent New Jeresy in the U.S. Senate, with just over a week left before election day.

Kean received three new endorsements on Sunday while Menendez got two.

However, Menendez showed a slight lead over Kean in a poll published Sunday in The Record of Bergen County. The poll said Menendez can thank his lead to the majority of New Jerseyans who want Democrats to regain control of Congress.

In the survey of 600 likely voters, Menendez leads Kean 48-42 percent, and the sampling error margin is plus or minus four percentage points. The poll was conducted Oct. 23-25.

"Any other political year, I think the Republicans win that seat," said pollster Del Ali of Research 2000, the Rockville, Md., firm that conducted the survey for The Record. "The only thing saving Menendez is the climate out there."

Thirty percent of voters said the Iraq war was the most important issue in deciding their vote. Voters also want to see Democrats rather than Republicans control Congress, 53-35 percent.

President Bush remains unpopular, with only 37 percent saying he was doing an excellent or good job. Menendez's campaign strategy has been dominated by trying to tie Kean to the Bush administration policies, while Kean has painted Menendez as a corrupt politician.

The poll said voters found Kean more trustworthy by a 49-36 percent ratio, and they personally like him more than Menendez, 48-33 percent. But of those voters who consider Kean more trustworthy, 35 percent are voting for Menendez because they feel other factors, such as the war in Iraq and putting Democrats back in control of Congress, are more important.

Also on Sunday, several newspapers made endorsements. Menendez won the backing of The Star-Ledger of Newark and The Record. Kean was endorsed by The Asbury Park Press, The Press of Atlantic City and The Courier-Post of Cherry Hill.

Menendez was previously endorsed by the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Burlington County Times and Kean by The New York Post.

The Ledger said it endorsed Menendez because the decision should be based on a candidate's position on vital issues, ability to articulate those positions, and experience. The paper said it was "fully aware" of ethical questions as it endorsed Menendez, including the U.S. attorney's probe into a rental deal he had with a Hudson County community organization that also received federal funds.

"Clearly, Menendez exhibited poor judgment in this case, but that's not reason enough to disqualify him," The Ledger said.

The Ledger said it questioned the quality of Kean's campaign.

In its endorsement, The Record also said this year's campaigns have been nasty and personal and have left voters unsatisfied with both candidates. But the paper endorsed Menendez because "he is a proven federal legislator." The Record noted, however, that Menendez's "comes with baggage."

The paper also noted that Kean "has neither the charisma nor the political clarity of his much-beloved father."

Kean is the son of former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean.

"If Kean Jr. had spent the past months defining who he was rather than who he wasn't, the answer might be different" The Record said.

The Asbury Park Press said it is supporting Kean largely because the newspaper shares his views of restoring faith in government and improving the standard of living for New Jerseyans. The paper called Kean a "forceful advocate for ethics reform" who would continue in his father's tradition as a moderate, independent Republican.

The paper said Kean's attempts to portray Menendez as corrupt have fallen short, but that the senator "is clearly a tough party boss unafraid to use his power to advance his own interests and those of his friends and allies."

The Courier-Post also gave its nod to Kean and criticized Gov. Jon Corzine for appointing Menendez to serve out the remainder of his Senate term, saying Corzine should have chosen southern New Jersey Congressman Robert Andrews instead.

The Press of Atlantic City criticized Menendez for glossing over the corruption allegations against him, saying the senator "does not seem troubled by the appearance of impropriety in these issues, and that's disturbing."

They acknowledged Kean's lack of experience — Kean was a state assemblyman from 2001-2003, and is currently a state senator. But they said in that short time, Kean has established a good track record in the Statehouse on matters of reform, such as pay-to-play policies.

"Kean deserves a chance to prove himself to be an independent, proud voice for New Jersey," the paper said.

The two candidates had relatively light campaign schedules on Sunday, with Menendez appearing with New York Sen. Charles Schumer in Jersey City to talk about college tuition and attending a rally in Irvington later; Kean was attending a rally in Wallington for congressional candidate Vince Micco, who is challenging New Jersey Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman.