Atlantic County voters apparently like the legislators of their split district enough that they want to keep them in office, according to the first poll of the season, released Wednesday.

Incumbent state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and Assemblymen John Amodeo and Chris Brown, both R-Atlantic, all hold healthy leads on their challengers, according to the poll of the 2nd Legislative District by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College. The 2nd District includes most of Atlantic County.

Daniel J. Douglas, Hughes Center director, said the polls should not be treated as gospel. Early polls typically favor incumbents.

“Whelan survived the onslaught of negative campaigning last time, and he has a strong challenger this year who has won countywide twice,” Douglas said. “I think there’s still a race ahead of them.”

In Whelan’s case, the poll found nearly 51 percent of the district would vote him into the four-year seat if the election were today, versus a little more than 39 percent for his challenger, Republican Frank X. Balles, Atlantic County’s sheriff.

Two years ago, a similar Stockton poll found Whelan essentially tied with his challenger, Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina, at about 40 percent. Whelan later won.

In the Assembly, this year’s poll found about 25 percent would vote for Amodeo and about 23 percent for Brown, both more than their Democratic challengers.

The poll gave 19 percent to both Vince Mazzeo and Nick Russo, the mayors of Northfield and Longport, respectively.

The Assembly candidates’ totals were much higher two years ago, possibly reflecting the higher intensity of the legislative campaign by this point.

The poll also found that local voters knew the incumbents better than the challengers.

About two-thirds of the district thought well of Whelan and 20 percent didn’t, the poll found, and only 11 percent had no opinion.

By comparison, 43 percent thought well of Balles, and 8 percent poorly, but 46 percent were unfamiliar with him.

In the Assembly, about 48 percent thought well of Amodeo and 42 percent thought well of Brown. But 40 and 45 percent, respectively, also had no opinion on Amodeo and Brown.

Among the Democrats, a little more than half of those polled had no opinion on Mazzeo and Russo, although about a third of those polled thought favorably of them both.

The poll also found Republican Gov. Chris Christie held a 56 to 34 percentage point lead over his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono. Only 6 percent were undecided.

Newark’s mayor, Democrat Cory Booker, held a 49 to 38 percent lead over the Republican candidate, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, in the Oct. 16 special U.S. Senate election.

The Hughes Center’s Stockton Polling Institute conducted the poll of 596 likely voters Sept. 7 to 9. It has a four percentage point margin of error. The institute plans future polls on the 1st, 2nd and 9th Legislative District this election season as well as on statewide races.

Contact Derek Harper:

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.