As is often the case in debates, both candidates walked away from the U.S. Senate Debate at Rowan University in Glassboro Wednesday night brimming with confidence.
Republican candidate Steve Lonegan pointed to the progress he’s making in the polls and what he described as himself “clobbering Democratic candidate Cory Booker in the debate” as proof his message is resonating with the voters of New Jersey.
Booker, the Mayor of Newark, pointed to Lonegan’s controversial comments calling Newark a “black hole” and referring to bodies floating in the city’s waters as the former Mayor of Bogota is not in line with the state’s residents.
“One thing I’ve learned in the last four years is that people are hungry for politicians who speak clearly and with integrity,” Lonegan said. “Rather than having politicians who agree on everything and pander to each other, people want politicians who speak out with honesty and integrity.”
Booker agreed Lonegan was speaking honestly.
“We’re happy with what we’re seeing,” Booker said. “In most polls, we’ve never fallen under 50 percent, but I don’t think polls vote. People do. I was very happy with how Lonegan presented himself because he told the truth to New Jersey’s voters.”
In September, Booker held a 35-point lead over Lonegan in a Rutgers-Eagleton poll, a poll conducted by the Stockton Polling Institute showed Booker held a 26-point lead. Those leads have recently narrowed, down to 12 and 13 points in some polls.
On Wednesday, Lonegan was not only honest, but blunt in some of the imagery he produced during the debate, referring to bodies floating in Newark’s waters and referring to the city as a “black hole.”
“I couldn’t believe the disrespect he showed when talking about the state’s biggest cities,” Booker said. “ … He’s talking about large sections of our state, but the truth is, we’re not divided.”
“I have no regrets about my comments,” Lonegan said. “I believe there were two bodies found in Newark’s waters in the last year. I was getting my point across.”
He said he referred to the city as a black hole the same way politicians refer to black holes in budgets.
“I will say the crime and the drop out rates in Newark are abysmal though,” Lonegan said.
“One-third of the economic growth in the state is in Newark,” Booker said during and after the debate. “How much better could we be doing.”
Booker added the city will announce on Thursday that Whole Foods will be opening a store in the city.
Lonegan’s final bit of imagery involved Booker’s support of abortion “up until the day of delivery.”
“I believe in healthcare decisions being between a woman and her doctor,” Booker said. “If you believe in liberty, give liberty back to women.”
“I believe in the sanctity of life,” Lonegan said.
The debate was similar to last week’s debate in Trenton, in which the candidates agreed on virtually nothing and sparred at every turn. Each candidate continued to call the other extremist in his views.
“We need to send more people to Washington to work together, not more Tea Party candidates who will shut down the government,” proved to be a phrase Booker would use more than once throughout the course of the debate.
“He calls me a right wing extremist and our views are 180 degrees apart, so he must be a left wing extremist,” Lonegan said.
Booker pointed to Lonegan’s opposition to federal aid following Superstorm Sandy as proof of what he called Lonegan’s extremism.
“We have someone running for senator in New Jersey who opposed aid for the state’s residents following Sandy,” Booker said.
“I didn’t agree with the rush for the money, and I didn’t know where the money was coming from,” Lonegan said.
The two sparred on the government shutdown, Afforable Care Act, abortion, gun laws, education and briefly on national defense.
But both candidates came away with confidence, and both were prepared to leave the decision to the voters.
“The New Jersey voters can make the decision and send a message to America,” Booker said. “Do we want someone who’s going to pour gasoline on the fire or do we want someone going to Washington with a record of being able to work with everyone?”
“My message represents the mainstream of New Jersey voters,” Lonegan said. “I’m not going to convince all the voters in New Jersey to agree with me, but they will know what I believe in and where I stand. I will respect the decision of the voters.”
The candidates are seeking the Senate seat left vacant when Frank Lautenberg died of pneumonia in June. The election is Oct. 16.