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Beyond the Soundbite: Putting Final Gubernatorial Debate in Perspective

A give-and-take discussion about what the governor and challenger said and what it says about them

debate panel

We gathered a few of our contributors online last night to gauge their reactions to the second and final debate between Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono. Some of them are old hands at statewide politics:

  • Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

  • Dick Zimmer served in the New Jersey State Assembly and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. He was twice the nominee of the New Jersey Republican Party for the U.S. Senate.

  • Jim McQueeny is a political analyst and a former reporter and chief of staff and spokesman for U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg.

  • Bill Potter is an attorney in private practice who specializes in representing clean-energy providers.

  • Laura Waters is president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County. She also blogs about New Jersey education policy and politics at NJLeftBehind@blogspot.com.

  • Mark Magyar, who moderated this discussion, teaches labor studies at Rutgers University. A veteran Statehouse reporter, he served as deputy policy chief in the Whitman administration and as director of policy for the independent Daggett for Governor campaign.

Mark Magyar: What were your overall impressions of the debate? Were there any game-changing moments or any lines we will see show up in future campaign ads?

Carl Golden: Buono was considerably more forceful than she was last week. It almost seems as though she was goading Christie into having a "Christie moment."

Bill Potter: We heard over and over that Gov. Christie is proud of his first term, but we never heard what he wants to do in a second term.

Laura Waters: He did speak about civil service reform and municipal consolidation.

Dick Zimmer: I think she was more self-confident than in her first big-time televised debate, but still wasn't a match for Christie.

Carl Golden: I should add there were no game-changing moments but, having been through a fair amount of these events, there never are any such moments.

Bill Potter: She was strong and well informed, easily overshadowing Gov. Christie’s triumphalism on display

Carl Golden: I thought Buono's use of the bossism issue was striking. She mentioned the names Norcross and DiVincenzo and suggested these were backroom types with whom Christie had made a grand bargain.

Mark Magyar: This is the second time we've seen a kinder, gentler Christie. In fact, he almost seemed less forceful this week than last week. Would you agree?

Carl Golden: Christie showed again how very adept he is at deflecting questions he doesn't wish to answer. He spends a few second giving something of a response then goes directly back to his messages.

Mark Magyar: Let's take some time discussing Carl's point. What did you think of Buono's attack on Norcross and DiVincenzo, and just as striking, Christie's strong defense of DiVincenzo. How did you think that played?

Bill Potter: He gets points for obfuscation not for substance

Laura Waters: I don't think it was Christie's strongest moment, and he merely reinforced Buono's emphasis on "Boardwalk Empire" Jersey-backroom politics.

Bill Potter: He parried it well but the point was not rebutted that bossism is back.

Carl Golden: There is a case to be made that Buono should have taken this line of attack earlier in her campaign. We all know how little support she's received from party leaders, so there was really nothing for her to lose to make bossism an issue.

Laura Waters: And Christie managed to underline Buono's isolation from the mainline Dems.

Bill Potter: Bosses are not mainline Dems!

Mark Magyar: How do you think this line of attack would have played if she had made it a centerpiece of her campaign?

Laura Waters: A missed opportunity for her.

Dick Zimmer: Christie wasn't defending Joe D. as much as he was talking up bipartisanship, surely the most frequently used word in the debate.

Bill Potter: I agree but she is making the point now with fervor.

Carl Golden: I continue to believe the centerpiece of her campaign should have been property taxes, jobs, economy -- all these interrelated issues that Christie enjoys less than 50 percent support. Bossism could be tied in by making a case the bipartisanship he talks about so proudly comes from his alliances and accommodations with Democrat leaders.

Bill Potter: What's bipartisan about vetoing gay marriage and gun control and minimum wage?

Laura Waters: I agree. And I found it interesting that, certainly in the education realm, the focus was entirely on economics of education instead of content of reform.

Dick Zimmer: I agree. She recited compelling statistics in both debates, but didn't pound the issue home.

Bill Potter: Dick you're talking cosmetics again.

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