This past weekend New Jersey’s Democratic incumbent Senator Cory Booker faced his Republican challenger Jeff Bell in their only agreed public debate. Booker has attempted to ignore Bell’s candidacy, but in the modern world a refusal to debate suggests fear. The one-hour debate was televised by local ABC television affiliates, and is probably available through their websites, and those of C-Span and candidate Bell. Two moderators and three additional reporters reasonably representative of New Jersey asked the candidates a total of seventeen questions, and each of the candidates asked the other one question and made a closing statement. Questions covered immigration, economic problems, police and crime, and several other topics.
Booker has style; he is not without substance, but was the more predictable of the two candidates in terms of his positions and his responses. He repeatedly spoke of his efforts to work “across the aisle” (a phrase used repeatedly), and attempted to characterize Bell as a tea party obstructionist. Most of his responses followed the Democratic party line, although he did say that he thought the President was wrong to delay executive action on immigration until after the election, despite the fact that embattled Democrats thought such an action would harm their chances in this election. Some of his answers seemed to be equivocations; he was called on the point that he would not give an unequivocal no to the possibility of allowing a casino in northern New Jersey, although he strongly emphasized that it would depend on its impact on Atlantic City.
Bell is that rare breed, an independent thinker. Most of his positions are conservative, both economically and socially. He wants reduced government, believes that the Federal Reserve is hurting the economy, and stands against gay marriage and abortion–but more importantly believes that such issues should be decided by the democratic process through discussion and debate, not by judicial fiat or executive order. He highlighted his work in bipartisan efforts on tax reform and on immigration; on the latter, he thinks a complete overhaul of the system is needed, including a path to citizenship for illegals. He characterized Booker as an Obama Democrat, who will continue the status quo instead of finding workable solutions to the existing problems.
Booker also attacked the fact that Bell has been living in Virginia for the past thirty-one years, returning this past winter to enter the Senate race. Bell was a New Jersey resident who previously ran for Senate from New Jersey, and has since been working in Washington to attempt to move the political system toward solutions he believes viable; having met with little success, he has returned to run again for office from his home state.
Bell challenged the payments Booker received from his former law firm, which paid him close to seven hundred thousand dollars over seven years while he was mayor while receiving millions in city contracts particularly connected to the “watershed agency”. Federal investigations may be bringing indictments in that case, and although Booker claims that he informed Federal authorities as soon as he himself recognized that there might be illegal activities, some think it likely he will be included in the indictments. Booker asserts that the payments he received were outlined in a contract which cannot be made public because it contains financial information about others in the firm.
In short, Booker would characterize Bell as an obstructionist conservative who would return to past policies and principles and refuse to cooperate with the present administration, and would characterize himself as someone willing to help New Jersey residents while working in a bipartisan environment. Bell would characterize Booker as an Obama supporter whose views will result in more of the same crippling economic conditions and failed policies of the recent past, and himself as someone willing to explore different policies and work with both parties to discuss options and come to effective solutions.
Quick polls since the debate suggest that Booker is still ahead, but with a serious caveat. Booker holds the majority of Democrats and Bell the majority of Republicans, registered Democrats significantly outnumbering registered Republicans in the state, but the significant contingent of independents in the state lean strongly toward Bell–strongly enough that a low Democratic turnout could give Bell the win. The race is not over.
There is more about both candidates in our previous articles; you can find articles on these candidates, the candidates in the twelve New Jersey races for House of Representatives, the two state ballot questions, and other political issues here.