- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A New Jersey Republican who has dominated in his six previous Congressional elections has only a slight lead against a first-time candidate who is challenging him, a poll released Wednesday found.

The Monmouth University Poll found Republican Scott Garrett leading Democrat Roy Cho among likely voters in the 5th Congressional District by a 48 to 43 margin. Six percent said they were undecided and 3 percent were supporting other candidates.

The poll has not previously appeared on many lists of districts where the incumbent could lose. Monmouth’s Patrick Murray said he didn’t consider doing a poll on the race until recently.

“This race was not even a blip on most political prognosticators’ radar screens,” he said. “It should be now.”

The district stretches from northern Bergen County, an area made up of well-off New York City suburbs, to New Jersey’s rural and Republican-dominated northwest corner.

Garrett, 55, a lawyer and former state lawmaker, is considered the most conservative member of New Jersey’s congressional delegation and has not had much of a campaign challenge over his House career.

Cho’s campaign has tried to portray Garrett as too conservative for the district, using an ad showing tea cups to suggest Garrett is a tea-party candidate. Cho, a 33-year-old lawyer who has never run for office before, has also criticized Garrett for not initially supporting federal disaster aid immediately after Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York in 2012. Garrett was the only member of Congress from New Jersey not to sign a letter calling for special federal help. He eventually voted for the aid, though and was a sponsor of one of the relief bills.

In an interview Wednesday, Garrett said he signed several letters calling for aid later.

Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Cho, said Wednesday, that the campaign has believed all along that voters may not support Garrett as much once they know more about his record.

“We’re going to be just as aggressive,” Roseman said. He said Cho has now raised more than $1 million - still far less than the nearly $3.1 million Garrett had on hand as of Sept. 30.

Garrett said Cho is not telling the complete story in his ads.

“It’s emblematic of his whole race,” Garrett said. “It’s typical for a challenger: Attack, find one piece and attack on that and he has yet to advance a message about himself.”

Garrett also said he wasn’t concerned about the poll numbers. His opponent two years ago had about 43 percent of the vote, too, he said, “The numbers that I saw basically as far as topline numbers, these are basically the same,” he said, adding that he expects many undecided voters will choose him by the Nov. 4 election.

Just under half the voters in the poll, though, said Garrett did a good job of helping New Jersey recover from Sandy; more than one-fourth said he did a bad job.

Voters in the district were divided nearly evenly when they were asked whether they wanted to see Republicans or Democrats control Congress.

The telephone poll of 432 randomly selected likely voters was conducted Oct. 10-14. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

___

Follow Mulvihill at https://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill.

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