An even more heated debate in N.J.'s Senate race

U.S. Senate candidates Cory Booker (left) and Steve Lonegan after their second televised debate, with moderator Jim Rosenfield (center) of NBC10.
U.S. Senate candidates Cory Booker (left) and Steve Lonegan after their second televised debate, with moderator Jim Rosenfield (center) of NBC10. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 11, 2013

In a heated debate Wednesday in the U.S. Senate campaign in New Jersey, Democrat Cory Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan accused each other of being proxies for partisan figures who would only worsen Washington's problems.

Booker, the mayor of Newark, described the Oct. 16 election as a referendum on the "shutdown politics" of the tea party wing of the Republican Party.

Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, said the election offered voters a chance to halt what he called the devastating effects of President Obama's health-care law on the economy and on liberty.

"This is a chance for New Jersey to send a message," Booker declared before about 300 people at Rowan University in Glassboro, many of them college students who cheered him. "Do we want to send more tea party people down" to Washington who will "make what's wrong in Washington worse, or send people down there like me, who has been bringing people together?"

For his part, Lonegan blamed Senate Democrats and Obama for refusing to negotiate with House Republicans, whom he praised for "finally standing up to this tyrant."

"That's what's on the ballot: Obamacare," he said. House Republicans have proposed legislation that would fund the government and delay by one year the law's mandate that every individual buy health insurance or pay a tax.

Lonegan sharply criticized Booker's record in Newark, saying he had "failed a generation of school students." Aid from the state, Lonegan said, has "poured into a big black hole in Newark."

Crime is so dire in the city that "you may not be able to swim" in the Passaic River because of "bodies floating around from shooting victims," Lonegan said.

Booker's jaw dropped, and he said, "Oh my God, Oh my God," calling Lonegan's rhetoric offensive to people living in the city.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Lonegan said he did not regret his remarks. Booker told reporters, "Is this the kind of person they want representing them in Washington?"

"I think Mayor Booker's vision of Newark is as real as T-Bone," Lonegan said during the debate, referring to a drug dealer in Newark whom Booker has been accused of fabricating to embellish his image.

But Booker said crime was down in the city and economic development was booming, noting that businesses have relocated there during his tenure.

Booker accused Lonegan of hypocrisy for championing "liberty" even as he wants to outlaw abortion; for calling for less government spending, but asking for "extraordinary aid" from the state while he was mayor of Bogota; and for opposing immigration reform, but hiring an undocumented immigrant for his own business.

Bogota received $350,000 in aid from the administration of Gov. Jon S. Corzine in 2006 and 2007, when Lonegan was mayor.

Noting Lonegan's views on social issues such as same-sex marriage and gun control, Booker said his opponent was "doing more to replace Rush Limbaugh than Frank Lautenberg," the senator whose death in June brought about the special election.

Lonegan charged that Booker had equivocated on his positions on issues such as abortion, saying he had pandered to liberals.

Mostly, Lonegan cast himself as a candidate who would rein in spending, roll back regulations, and improve the economy.

"The difference between me and Cory Booker is, he doesn't trust people to invest their own money," Lonegan said. "He wants the government to do every single thing for you."

The debate, sponsored by NBC10, The Inquirer, and Philly.com, came as two new polls released Wednesday showed Booker with an 11- to 12-percentage-point lead, reflecting a race that has tightened considerably in recent weeks.

Booker has taken a more aggressive tack during that time. Wednesday's debate was more intense than the first debate Friday, with the candidates frequently interrupting each other or talking back and forth.

Asked about foreign intervention, Lonegan blasted Obama, citing the latest flashpoint in Washington's fiscal crisis: lack of funding for military funerals.

Booker replied: "I don't know if my opponent is running against me or Barack Obama."

"Both," Lonegan retorted. "You're one and the same."

The candidates continued at a frenetic pace until the very end, jabbing each other about abortion until they had run out of time for closing statements.


aseidman@phillynews.com

856-779-3846

@AndrewSeidman

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