The differences between the two major gubernatorial candidates sharpened during their final debate Wednesday night — as did their animosity. One is an activist who wants government to spend money to fix a myriad of problems he sees plaguing New Jersey. The other is a business advocate who has made a property-tax cut her signature issue, and who has regularly argued against the need to raise any taxes at all.
That fundamental difference helps explain why hostility seemed to be the major emotion during their second and final public debate.
Both Republican Kim Guadagno, the state’s lieutenant governor under Gov. Chris Christie, and Democrat Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany, ratcheted up the rhetoric and took some direct stabs at one another, both in front of the TV cameras and later in the post-debate “spin room,” where the attacks were harsh and frequent. At one point, Murphy openly accused his opponent of not telling the truth.
But despite their antipathy, the candidates didn’t cover much new ground in hour-long debate at the 922-seat Shea Center for the Performing Arts at William Paterson University in Wayne. Guadagno continued to hammer her message that she is going to lower property taxes while her opponent is going to raise taxes. And Murphy continually tied Guadagno to the very unpopular governor.
“We heard two very clear visions of our state,” Murphy said in his statement at the end of the contest. He said it would be “in essence another Chris Christie term, where the middle class is hollowed out, the truth is left behind.”
“Phil Murphy will raise your taxes; I will lower them,” said Guadagno, who called all of Murphy’s proposal “a fantasy” in her final remarks. “That’s why you should go to the ballot box November 7.”
But these comments during their seconddebate, carried live by WCBS-TV affiliates, were mild compared to some of the shots the two took at one another.
Addressing the press briefly after the contest, Guadagno came out swinging, announcing, “One thing we say tonight is that Phil Murphy is a fraud.” She said he has made many promises but has not said how he would pay for them.
Told Guadagno had said that when he came to the press room, Murphy said, “I don’t know how she has any credibility … I’m trying to be the adult in the room.”
During the debate, he several times accused her of not telling the truth.
“You left the middle class behind and now you’ve left the truth behind,” he said to Guadagno when at one point she said he was going to raise taxes and move the middle class out of New Jersey.
When she accused him of making promises that will cost as much as $65 billion in additional spending, he shot back, “You know those numbers are not true. You are making that up … We have to get back to the truth.”
The gloves come off
In perhaps the most contentious part of the debate, after Guadagno argued that he had no plan to fully fund the pension systems, Murphy said, “Shouldn’t there be a basic line of telling the truth? You’re just making stuff up.” This prompted Guadagno to loudly tell him, “If you’re going to start interrupting me I’m going to interrupt also.”
The candidates took several other opportunities to verbally jab at each other.
When Murphy suggested Guadagno had been at least a collaborator with Christie during their tenure and again brought up the number of days they have been in office — he said it’s 2,289 — she made a dig at his wealth. “I figure that’s about the amount of money you made per hour while you were in Goldman Sachs at one of those hedge funds.”
When Guadagno talked about conducting a state audit to find more than $1 billion to pay for her plan to cap the amount certain home owners would pay for school property taxes, Murphy said he agreed an audit is a good idea but asked why she has not done one already: “2,829 days, we could have had an audit accomplished by now.” He also said her circuit breaker “sounds like an overstock item at Crazy Eddie’s,” a now defunct New Jersey discount electronics chain.
When Murphy declined, again, to answer the question of whether he will continue the 2 percent cap on police and fire salary increases, unless increased through binding arbitration, Guadagno charged, “You just want to dodge the answer and I’ll tell you why … He has been endorsed by virtually every public-sector union in the state and he has promised them privately that he will not endorse an arbitration cap, a 2 percent cap, because they don’t want it.”
The debate drew the first responses from the candidates on Atlantic City and the possibility of allowing gambling in North Jersey, as well as a couple of other issues.
“I’m not a fan of these takeovers (as the state has done with Atlantic City.) Every single time it’s over the top. Every single time it’s a community of color,” Murphy said, referring to Christie’s stating he would “undo that state takeover.” Instead, Murphy said he would work with local officials to continue the progress the city has experienced.
Guadagno said state tax credits are the reason why Atlantic City is improving its economy.
Both candidates said they would support gambling in North Jersey, with Guadagno saying she would put it on the ballot once Atlantic City has “stabilized.”
Both said “yes” to the hypothetical question of whether they would provide tax credits to New Jerseyans working in New York City if the city put in place a “congestion pricing” plan that would make it more expensive to commute into and around parts of Manhattan.
They had slightly different answers when asked about the state’s recent announcement to back Newark as the best location to try to lure Amazon to build a new headquarters in New Jersey. Guadagno said the state should not exclude New Brunswick and other Amazon suitors from trying to land the company. Murphy said that in addition to tax credits, the state needs to improve its transportation network and other infrastructure if it is going to have a chance at landing the 50,000 new jobs Amazon has promised to create.
Otherwise, this debate did not cover much new ground.
Answering her first question, about Murphy tying her to Christie, Guadagno said, “Anyone who knows me knows I am not Chris Christie.” She declined, though to offer any instances in which she disagreed with the governor and was able to change his position, saying discussions between them were confidential.
She doubled down later in the debate: When asked if she got the opportunity to appoint a U.S. Senator should Democrat Robert Menendez be convicted in his current corruption trial would she put Christie in that seat, she quickly and emphatically said no, drawing laughs.
Murphy said that if the federal government cuts funding to New Jersey because he makes it a sanctuary state, he would go to court and “we would fight them tooth and nail to the full extent of the law.” Guadagno said the state should not “put at risk millions of dollars of funding” and also that “I don’t believe that the people of New Jersey want to see a violent criminal released from our jails if there is an immigration detailer against them.”
To a question on high amounts of student debt, Murphy discussed his plans to make county colleges free and forgive some student loan debt for students who stay in state after graduating, but he also brought up his idea to have a public bank that would, at least in part, give students a way to get low-cost loans.
“I can’t imagine a worse idea” than to give the state’s money to “some bureaucrat in Trenton” to manage, she responded.
They took different tacks in summing up their cases for the viewers.
“We will become fair and inclusive for all again,” he said. “On the one hand, you have folks who want to scare you to vote for them.” He was referring to a Guadagno ad in which she criticizes his proposal to make New Jersey a sanctuary state that Latinos and union leaders denounced as dishonest, race baiting, and fear mongering.
Instead, Murphy invoked the names of some of his heroes: John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and President Barack Obama, who is coming to a Newark rally to back Murphy today.
In her final remarks, Guadagno continued to push her message, saying, “I grew up moving all around the country. My dad lost his job. I moved 12 times before I went to college. I know what it means when a family has to leave a state and a town that they grew to love. I don’t want to see New Jerseyans do the same thing.”
In the money
Both candidates are required to appear in two debates to receive public matching funds. Candidates can receive public funds as a 2-to-1 match, up to a maximum of $9.3 million, and those who do cannot spend more than $13.8 million on the general election.
Murphy has both financial and polling leads over Guadagno.
He has raised three times the funds toward next month’s election as she has, and he has nearly six times more money in the bank, according to their most recent campaign finance reports. The reports covering the period following the primary through October 6 and filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission show Murphy with $5.4 million in the bank and Guadagno with less than $1 million.
Murphy also had a 15-point lead over Guadagno in the latest survey, a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll conducted after the first debate. That lead was registered despite the fact that slightly more of those surveyed called Guadagno the winner of the first debate, although even more thought neither had scored a victory. Only a third of those surveyed had even watched the first debate. The FDU poll shows Murphy leading Guadagno 47 percent to 32 percent among likely voters.
Both camps, as well as that of Green Party candidate Seth Kaper-Dale, who did not raise the $430,000 required to get public matching funds and participate in the debates, rallied outside the center. Groups of about 50 each of Murphy and Guadagno supporters, and about 5 for Kaper-Dale, displayed signs and shouted at one another.
That’s a lot more enthusiasm than the general public has been showing, with 16 percent of those polled by FDU still not committed to a candidate and the general interest in the campaign less than enthusiastic.