Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (left) with New Jersey Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick in January.
By John Celock
Leading a chamber of New Jersey’s Legislature is paying off for one likely gubernatorial contender, with a new poll showing him with name recognition to a majority of state voters.
A Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll released Thursday shows Senate President Steve Sweeney holding 56 percent name recognition statewide. The survey polled the name recognition of Sweeney along with the two other most likely Democratic gubernatorial candidates in 2017 – Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and former ambassador Phil Murphy.
The poll showed Murphy – the only announced Democratic gubernatorial candidate – with 26 percent name recognition statewide and Fulop – the leader of New Jersey’s second largest city with 25 percent name recognition. The poll also tossed in a fictional candidate – Matt Alexander – who had 18 percent name recognition.
The poll covered registered voters in the state and not just Democrats for the June 2017 primary in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Chris Christie (R). Sweeney, Fulop and Murphy have been positioning themselves for the race for several years with most of the campaigning – including at this point – focused on party insiders to gain support before the election. Under New Jersey’s primary system, county party organizations can award the “party line” in the primary which gives the candidate with the line better ballot placement in the county and access to county party assistance in campaigning.
The poll showed Sweeney with an 18 percent statewide favorable rating, while six percent approved of Fulop’s job performance and eight percent approved of Murphy. Sweeney also held the highest unfavorable rating at 22 percent, with nine percent viewing Fulop unfavorably and seven percent viewing Murphy as unfavorable.
Sweeney’s leadership of the Senate since 2010 likely contributed to his high name recognition. Sweeney has maintained a statewide presence in the leadership role, assuming a high profile alternatively working with and opposing Christie on state issues. During the first four years of Sweeney’s Senate presidency, his statewide public profile often eclipsed that of then Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D).
Sweeney is also the only gubernatorial candidate on the Democratic side to have strong ties to the labor movement – being a longtime union leader – and to reside in South Jersey.
While Fulop has been making inroads with Democratic Party leaders for years, his public political reach was limited to Jersey City since his first election to the city council in 2005. Since winning the mayor’s office in 2013, Fulop has begun expanding his political reach to other parts of North Jersey as part of his positioning for the governorship in 2017.
Murphy was largely unknown in state political circles until a year ago. A former Goldman Sachs executive, Murphy headed fundraising for the Democratic National Committee prior to President Obama’s election. During Obama’s first term, Murphy was the U.S. ambassador to Germany. Murphy has been attending forums around the state and officially announced his candidacy earlier this month.
The poll did not include Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter who earlier this month started signaling her intention to enter the Democratic gubernatorial race. State Sen. Ray Lesniak and Assemblyman John Wisniewski have also been mentioned as potential gubernatorial candidates on the Democratic side.
On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is the most mentioned gubernatorial contender. Guadagno, who also serves as New Jersey’s secretary of state, has formed a statewide advocacy group to assist with her likely campaign. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick has also been making inroads with GOP activists statewide to assist with a potential gubernatorial campaign.