(CNSNews.com) - Going into September, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Tom Kean, Jr. was either leading polls or in statistical ties with his Democratic rival, Sen. Bob Menendez. At the time, Menendez was fighting through a storm of allegations and a federal probe of wrongdoing involving grant money steered to a nonprofit organization renting a house he owned.
As an ethical cloud hung over Menendez, Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley became the center of a firestorm alleging inappropriate conduct with congressional pages. Now, the "Foley Factor" may be impacting the New Jersey Senate race and two Republican congressional seats once deemed safe.
The Republican candidate for the Senate may have another problem -- President Bush.
Menendez has a substantial campaign war chest and he has saturated radio and television airwaves with negative ads blasting what he claims is Kean's "Pro-Bush, Pro-War Record." Those ads have resonated in New Jersey, a traditional liberal "blue" state.
Kean's poll numbers have fallen and Democrat Linda Stender who was fighting an uphill battle against Rep. Mike Ferguson, also appears to be closing the gap.
Rep. Scott Garrett, a conservative Republican, is also seeing his Democratic rival gaining ground.
David Rebovich, managing director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics, told Cybercast News Service that the "Foley Factor" places all Republican House members in a delicate situation.
"New Jersey's Republican House members, much like nationwide are behind the 8-ball. Do they publicly back Speaker Dennis Hastert? Do they fear being tied in to the Foley scandal? Do they fear voters will feel Washington Republicans are ethically impaired," Rebovich asked.
"There's no question it was a very tough week for Republicans across the country. But right now we believe the situation regarding former Rep. Foley is not a factor in this race," said Jill Hazelbaker, spokesperson for Tom Kean, Jr.
The three latest polls for U.S. Senate show Menendez now leading by as many as five points.
"Sen. Menendez seems to be beating back the ethical questions facing his campaign and in fact has improved his standing, particularly among male voters," said Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute whose poll of likely voters released Thursday showed Menendez ahead 49 to 45 percent.
Kean, who has already called for the resignations of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over Iraq and Speaker Dennis Hastert over the Foley affair, could potentially face losses within his core base as he distances himself from the national Republican leadership.
"There is a crisis of leadership on both sides of the political aisle. Tom Kean is someone who is an independent thinker and someone who wants to fix the system, even if it means standing up against his own party," said Hazelbaker.
She added that another reason Kean is falling behind is because of Menendez's superior financial advantage over Kean, an opinion echoed by Rebovich.
"Menendez flooding the airwaves is a big advantage. Both campaigns have been negative, but you are hearing much more from Menendez and not enough from Kean against Menendez," said Rebovich.
As for the issue of ethics, even though Menendez remains under a dark cloud, voters in New Jersey have not been able to gain all of the facts. "You have Menendez in a televised debate lying by saying he isn't under federal investigation. Then he tells ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he is being investigated. It's quite possible he could get elected, and then indicted," said Hazelbaker.
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