Mayor Cory Booker and former mayor Steve Lonegan just wrapped up their first debate. The two pols are competing over the open Senate seat that became vacant due to the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg. The special election will be October 16th. They touched on a range of issues and I’ll recap some of that here.
Booker went as far as to say that Obamacare needs to be improved—not to repeal the law as the "tea-party fringe" wants to do, but rather to work to improve the law that we have. Mr. Lonegan responded with perhaps the best one liner of the debate by saying, “New Jersey needs a leader not a tweeter.” Lonegan argued that Obamacare is a bad law and costs too much.
Lonegan proposed that we do a better job of securing our borders, but notes it is unrealistic to try and deport 11.5 million illegal immigrants. Therefore, he supports more legal immigration and endorsed the idea of increasing the ability of business to sponsor immigrant workers for citizenship. Booker believes in creating more opportunities for immigrants that are here through government assistance.
On Cory Booker’s continued payments from his previous law firm:
The moderators of the debate were not afraid to ask the tough questions of Booker. They grilled him on whether he would be willing to divulge the amount of money he had received from his previous law firm, and he said he would not. He went on to note that he has released 15 years of tax return information and complied with all regulations. Lonegan accused him of impropriety and asked for an investigation of the law firm and the contracts they received in Newark.
On gun control:
Booker went as far as to link gun control with anti-terrorist efforts. He declared his support for background checks and an assault rifle ban and ending gun shows. Lonegan is also supportive of background checks but wouldn’t go any further. One of the most interesting moments of the debate was when a moderator asked Cory Booker how New Jersey has the second most murders in the country while simultaneously having some of the strictest gun control laws. Booker had no good response except to endorse more gun control laws at the national level. Lonegan observed that gun laws are no obstacle to criminals.
On taxes, entitlements, student loans and the economy:
No huge surprises here. Lonegan is a free-market guy who supports less regulation on business, lower taxes, and less government assistance. He did state his support for protecting Social Security and Medicare, but noted the need for reform or else those programs would go bankrupt. Booker essentially endorsed the opposite position on every issue. He supports keeping entitlements the same, increasing student loan programs and increasing government spending to "create jobs."
Areas of agreement:
The two candidates found a surprising amount of common ground on a few issues. The first is NSA wiretapping and information-gathering on Americans. Both were against this practice. Lonegan stated his desire to repeal the Patriot Act, and Booker agreed, with the caveat that we keep regulations on businesses transporting dangerous materials. They also agreed on Syria and that we should avoid military action there. Both stated that America should not be the world’s police force. They were also united in their support for Israel and both talked tough on Iran.
Cory Booker was working hard to appear above the fray and like a politician that can work with others. He clearly went out of his way to look like a nice guy. At one point, he gave his opponent respect for being a "New Jersey guy" and seemed genuinely excited to identify areas of agreement.
Steve Lonegan was having none of the pleasantries. He was in attack mode the entire debate and continually dogged Booker on the struggles Newark has been facing, particularly in the last three years. In terms of strategy, this makes some sense: as a big underdog, he has to try and knock his opponent down a peg or two. However, to the average viewer, it might have made him look "mean" compared to Booker’s serene demeanor.