Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Booker and Lonegan Go on the Attack Paint Each Other as 'Extremist' in First Debate

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Booker and Lonegan Go on the Attack Paint Each Other as 'Extremist' in First Debate

Article excerpt

With less than two weeks until voters go to the polls, U.S. Senate candidates Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan missed few opportunities Friday to call the other an "extremist."

In their first debate ahead of the special election, the two disagreed on nearly every issue -- from health care reform to economic policies to gay marriage. And in addition to their policy disputes, they were quick to remind voters about how "radical" their opponent is.

"Sending my opponent down to Washington to join a fringe group of Tea Party people would make what's wrong with Washington worse," said Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark.

"My opponent supports the far-left, liberal, extreme view of government," Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor, later shot back.

Friday's debate wasn't the first time Booker and Lonegan traded such accusations. In August, shortly after they won their parties' primary elections, they spent a day calling each other "extremists" in dueling news conferences. And Lonegan has focused much of his campaign on attacking Booker -- who, at one point, held a 35-point lead in the polls.

But Booker's performance in the debate marked a strategic shift: He attacked Lonegan much more aggressively than he typically had before.

"It's always been Cory Booker's election to lose. Up until this week, he was running it to lose," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "Now, he's decided to get back into it."

Booker frequently reminded debate viewers about Lonegan's ties to the Tea Party and other conservative Republicans. Lonegan was the state director of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political advocacy group supported by energy billionaires David and Charles Koch, until he stepped down earlier this year.

And Lonegan embraced that conservative image. If he is elected, he said, he would "like to be known as the man who dismantled the IRS as we know it."

The Newark mayor is maintaining a lead over Lonegan, but the race has tightened. A Monmouth University poll released this week showed Booker ahead by 13 points -- a smaller lead than the 35 points shown in a Rutgers-Eagleton poll last month.

But Booker came out swinging on Friday. "What happened is Cory Booker woke up," Murray said.

The debate took place amid an ongoing federal government shutdown and a looming crisis over raising the nation's debt ceiling. Lonegan said he would not support an increase in the ceiling -- without which the government would fail to pay its creditors -- without "massive" cuts in government spending.

"We need to cut the size of government, cut hard, cut deep," he said.

Booker, who has centered his campaign on the argument that he will reach across the aisle and compromise, was quick to criticize Lonegan's position on the debt ceiling. …

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