The candidates tried to paint each other as coming from the extreme of their own party in their first debate, just 12 days before the New Jersey Senate special election.
Democrat Cory Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan tried to paint each other as representing the extremist wing of their parties in their first debate, just 12 days before the New Jersey Senate special election.
In a tense, often testy debate, it was Booker, the well-known Newark mayor, who wasted no time in portraying his GOP opponent as part of a “fringe Tea Party,” even in response to a question about how he had worked across party lines.
Booker pointed out many of Lonegan’s conservative positions, including his opposition to gay marriage and abortion, as evidence he was out of step with a heavily Democratic Garden State.
The Democratic mayor tried to be positive, but repeatedly tried to tie Lonegan to House Republicans, blaming them–and him–for the current congressional stalemate and government shutdown.
“My opponent is going to make everything wrong with Washington worse,” said Booker. ”Because a small fringe of folks are not getting their way, they would shut down the government.”
Booker also argued that health care reform had already “been litigated” and President Obama won re-election. Instead of repealing it, he said, parts of it should be improved in a bipartisan fashion.
Lonegan, in response, said Republicans in Washington were “holding the line against the Obamacare assault on our health care freedom.”
The former Bogota mayor and conservative activist also said he wouldn’t support raising the debt ceiling, a crisis which a divided Washington must tackle next, unless it was accompanied by massive cuts. A small businessman who has owned his own home building and cabinet business, he said his experience in the private sector best qualified him for the job.
Booker, who released his first negative ad of the cycle targeting his GOP opponent as “too extreme,” has seen his lead dwindle in the polls. Once enjoying as high as a 25 point lead, public polls last week showed that had been cut in half.
Lonegan reveled though in slamming Booker’s celebrity, often repeating that the state needed “a leader, not a tweeter.” He slammed the mayor for “parading around California with Hollywood elites” while violence spiked in his city and unemployment rose.
Booker defended his trips, saying he’s used it to bring attention to the city and its problems, bringing in business and money for education.
““I have traveled around the country, but when I do I actually bring back resources for Newark,” said Booker.
“The only example of economic growth I can find in Newark is Cory Booker’s bank account,” said Lonegan.
The mid-day taped debate was streamed live by Philadelphia ABC affiliate WPVI, to be broadcast Sunday morning. The pair’s second and final debate will occur next Monday, just over a week before voters head to the polls to make their pick to succeed the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg on October 16.