FORKED RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The race for U.S. Senate in New Jersey is in a dead heat, according to recent polls.

Senator Robert Menendez (D) faces his biggest challenger yet in Republican Bob Hugin, so what gives?

Patrick Murray from the Monmouth University Polling Institute says it’s a much closer race than expected, considering how Democratic New Jersey typically sways.

“What kind of environment we have nationally right now should play into the hands of the Democratic incumbent,” Murray said. “Taking Bob Menendez out of that calculation, that Democratic incumbent would win by 20 points.”

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According to a Quinnipiac poll, the public may have a negative view of Menendez’s recent corruption trial. Likely voters in New Jersey say 59 to 25 percent that the senator is not honest, but 48 to 39 percent polled say that he cares about average people.

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Hugin scored higher on honesty, with 39 percent, but just as many people don’t know enough about him to say for sure.

“The two figures that really matter in this race are Bob Menendez and Donald Trump, Bob Hugin is almost an afterthought for many voters,” Murray said. “He spent a lot of time over the summer attacking Bob Menendez and it has worked for him.”

On Wednesday, Hugin had an event alongside Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur.

Pollsters say healthcare is the number one issue. Murray says in order for the former pharmaceutical executive to upset the incumbent, he needs Republicans to show up in droves to vote.

The state hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972.