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Kean also has another advantage in this race. Though Menendez has been in Congress since 1993, he has only been in the Senate for nine months. Unlike most incumbents, he also has to spend significant time and money introducing himself to voters across the state, and Kean's charges of corruption have put him on the defensive. Still, Menendez will have plenty of ways to get his message out, as financial disclosure forms filed in June showed he had $7 million to spend on the race, compared with $2 million for Kean. And in a state where 64% of residents disapprove of President Bush, according to polling by Survey USA, Menendez has a message that might resonate. It's not an original one, but the one every Democratic candidate in the country is using: he's linking Kean to President Bush and the war in Iraq, saying in an ad that Kean is trying to hide his "pro-Bush" record.
Menendez is also banking on New Jersey electoral history; the Garden State frequently has very tight, down-to-the-wire races, which the Democrats ultimately pull off. "This is a late deciding state, historically," he told TIME. And indeed, a new poll out this week showed Menendez with a slight, four-point lead over Kean. The fallout over the Foley scandal could possibly tilt the race to Menendez, but Kean has tried to get out in front of that issue by calling for Hastert's head. Keeping some distance from his own party, Kean knows, may be the only way to get to Washington next year and, ironically, keep Senate Republicans in power.
With reporting by Adam Graham-Silverman/Long Valley