Booker, Lonegan amp up attacks in second U.S. Senate debate

By Brent Johnson/The Star-Ledger
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on October 09, 2013

U.S. Senate candidates Cory Booker (left) and Steve Lonegan spar in their second televised debate. Moderator Jim Rosenfield of NBC 10 is in the middle at Pfleeger Concert Hall at Rowan University in Glassboro. (Michael Bryant/Pool Photo/Philadelphia Inquirer)


TRENTON — Somehow, the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Cory Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan managed to get even more heated tonight.

In their second and final debate, Booker and Lonegan went after each other on everything from hot-button social topics like gay marriage and abortion to their stance on the debt ceiling and gun control. And they took some nasty shots at each other's records.

Booker, the Newark mayor leading by about a dozen percentage points in recent polls, continued to paint Lonegan as a member of the "tea party extremist" wing of the Republican party, blaming them for the current shutdown of the federal government.

"If you want more of what is making Washington go wrong, vote for Steve Lonegan," Booker said during the hour-long debate at Rowan University in Glassboro.

Lonegan, the conservative activist and former Bogota mayor, continued to paint Booker as a disciple of President Obama who has seen crime and unemployment rise as the executive of New Jersey's largest city.

At one point, Booker said he didn't know whether Lonegan is running "against me or Barack Obama."

"Both," Lonegan replied. "Because you are one in the same."

The debate came exactly one week before Booker and Lonegan will face off in the special Oct. 16 election to fill the final 14 months of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg's term.

Booker defended his job in Newark, noting that big businesses are moving into the city. He announced that supermarket chain Whole Foods is planning to construct a store there. "We are nowhere near the city I inherited," the mayor said.

Lonegan responded that unemployment has gone from 8 to 14 percent under Booker's tenure and that murders have multiplied. "That is not progress," he said.

Later, Booker said Lonegan would want to gut environmental regulations, using the polluted Passaic River as an example of the need for them.

"You may not be able to swim in that river, but it's probably, I think, because of all the bodies floating around of shooting victims in your city," Lonegan shot back.

"Oh my god," Booker replied. "This is what he thinks of our cities – bodies floating in the river. How insulting is that?"

Lonegan also pounced on claims that Booker has distorted stories he has told in speeches that he watched a man in Newark die in his arms from a gunshot wound and that he became friends with a man named T-Bone who once threatened to kill him.

"I find it deeply disturbing when an elected official uses the death of someone to boost himself up," Lonegan said. "It really shows a lack of judgement."

Booker called the allegations "distractions."

The two also sparred on gun control. Asked whether he'd support background checks at gun shows, Lonegan said he would not support any expansion on "the invasion of our Second Amendment rights."

Booker took the opposite stance, saying cities like Newark are flooded with guns purchased at out-of-state gun shows. "This is common sense," he said.

Meanwhile, Booker said he supports same-sex marriage. "We are all equal under the law," he said.

Lonegan said "marriage is the greatest institution made by man" because it can produce children. "It's about the children," he said.

Asked whether he believes gay couples should have children, he quipped: "That would be a biological phenomenon."

Then he added about gay couples adopting: "I have mixed feelings about that."

On education, Booker said he supports charter schools, but "public education is the bedrock of our state."

Lonegan advocated for dissolving the federal Department of Education and leave decisions to local districts. " It's a known fact New Jersey gets back only pennies on the dollar that it sends to D.C.," he explained.

One of the moderators noted that Booker or Lonegan would take office in Congress in time to vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling — another controversial topic that has sharply divided Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

Booker said he would vote to raise the debt ceiling to avoid defaults even though it has provisions he would oppose. "That's what compromise is," he said.

Lonegan said he would support raising the debt ceiling with corresponding spending cuts. "We need to start cutting the size of government. It is too big, it is too intrusive," he said.

He added about Obama: "I am proud Republicans are finally standing up to this tyrant."

But possibly the most contentious moment came during a discussion about abortion.

"What abortion would you make illegal?" Lonegan asked Booker.

"I believe in Roe vs. Wade," Booker said.

Lonegan said Booker supports abortions up to the day over delivery.

"Imagine aborting a baby in the eighth month of pregnancy," Lonegan said. "He supports that."

"That is not true," Booker replied.

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commented 2013-12-23 23:19:02 -0800
Thank you