Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli clashed as scheduled Tuesday night over vaccine requirements, abortion rights, LGBTQ education and Donald Trump in a debate that at times grew tense with accusations of fanaticism and personal responsibility for the lives lost in the COVID-19 pandemic and Tropical Storm Ida.
They did agree on one thing, however.
Each candidate has pledged not to raise taxes if elected head of state within the next four years.
But for nearly an hour in their first debate on Tuesday night, the two main candidates served up sharp lines explaining their political philosophies, attacking the credibility of the other and clarifying the blunders that became the campaign’s fodder.
The debate touched on a range of issues, from police diversity and critical race theory to property taxes and gun violence, but some of the most intense exchanges followed questions about Murphy’s initial handling of the pandemic. and Ciattarelli’s participation in a Stop the Steal rally.
Murphy, the outgoing bowling Democrat chairman seeking a second term, reacted in disbelief when Ciattarelli said he believed he was in a rally last year for the 2021 campaign and did not saw the Stop The Steal signs claiming that last year’s presidential election was fraudulent.
But, if he did, Ciattarelli said he shouldn’t be held responsible, just as Murphy shouldn’t be if he attended rallies where people chanted to “fund the police,” a. popular rallying cry following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police Officer.
“It goes up to the level of disqualification,” Murphy said. “You stand there with a Stop The Steal sign right next to you. There were Confederate flags. There were white supremacists.
Murphy added that the rally “is exactly the same cocktail” that led to violence on the United States Capitol on January 6 that claimed the life of New Jersey native Brian Sitnick.
“These people are dead,” Murphy said.
Ciattarelli, a historically moderate Republican who has also remained calm throughout the debate, quickly hit back, “You mean like the people in nursing homes and Tropical Storm Ida?
Ciattarelli and Republicans in the state legislature have been asking for months blame the death toll of nearly 8,000 people in nursing homes on Murphy’s policy that testing positive for COVID-19 was not grounds for being denied admission.
Murphy reiterated on several occasions, and did so again Tuesday night, that his policy was “crystal clear” that patients should be separated from the general population in nursing homes.
Ciattarelli also attempted to use the moderator’s questioning on Murphy’s late order declaring a state of emergency during Tropical Storm Ida to blame Murphy for the storm’s death toll, one of the highest in the history of the state.
“If we ever needed a ‘beach fuck time’,” Ciattarelli said, borrowing the famous phrase from former Governor Chris Christie before Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Due to Murphy’s response, he said, “There are 30 fewer New Jerseyans with us today.
Vaccine, hide mandate differences
Another tense moment came at the start of the debate, when Ciattarelli was asked to explain what he meant when he said “children are not vulnerable to this virus” when discussing his opposition. to Murphy’s mask warrants in schools.
Ciattarelli admitted that he was not speaking perfectly at the time, but that his view was consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that children are generally not as prone to serious illness and disease. dead than adults.
Noting that he is vaccinated and believes in vaccines, Ciattarelli maintained his opposition to Murphy’s vaccine warrants. He said his job as governor would be to provide as much information as possible to the public to make an informed decision.
“Do I believe the government has the right to tell people that they have to take medicine? No, I don’t, ”he said.
Murphy sought to portray Ciattarelli as a marginal candidate for having such conviction, and that his opposition to the mandates “may be among the greatest” contrast between the two.
“You can’t look for wiggle room on vaccines, and your body your choice. You can’t ignore the science when it comes to masking. It’s crystal clear, ”Murphy said.
Ciattarelli in turn tried to paint Murphy, as he did for months, as out of touch, especially on women’s issues. Listing past issues with Murphy – whether it was alleged sexual assault during his first campaign by an assistant or abuse at the state prison for women, Ciattarelli said that “it was the most anti-woman governor we have ever had.
Murphy pointed to the changes he made to state policy and campaigning, the number of women in his administration and his regular funding of Planned Parenthood as proof of his support for women.
“A guy who votes to fund Planned Parenthood isn’t a governor for women, period,” Murphy said.
Ciattarelli has said he supports women’s health, but disagrees with sending “all the money in the state” to Planned Parenthood because it supports abortion.
Focus on finances
Throughout the debate, Ciattarelli attempted to refocus attention on Murphy’s fiscal handling of the state by recycling a phrase Murphy once used to defend his policies: You probably aren’t your state.
Ciattarelli turned to the sparse – but at times loud and mocking – crowd on several occasions using this line to make it clear that Murphy shouldn’t be four more years in power.
But a question from moderator Sade Baderinwa of WABC in New York City quickly got the sparring candidates to agree.
“Do you want to make a commitment now that you will not levy any taxes at any time during the next four years?” ” she asked.
Murphy, who raised multiple taxes during his first term, said, “I pledge not to raise taxes… at any time in the next four years.
Ciattarelli quickly followed: “There will be no new taxes.”
Murphy entered the debate in the lead with a two-digit advance, according to public polls.
The governor had all the benefits all along a discreet spring-summer campaign: a Democratic Party with 1 million more registered voters than Republicans; high approval ratings; and nearly $ 3 million more than Ciattarelli in matching public funds.
All of this makes Ciattarelli’s path to victory narrow, but not closed. Strong support from his party and the votes of a large number of unaffiliated New Jersey voters could translate into upheaval on November 2.
The days leading up are crucial for Ciattarelli.
According to polls, he has so far struggled to get his message across that Murphy is a liberal tax and spendthrift who is wrecking New Jersey finances. Attempts to portray the governor as out of touch, especially on the treatment of women, did not dampen support for Murphy either.
Tuesday night’s debate, and another scheduled for October 12, could help Ciattarelli gain more public recognition. And, as Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray noted, New Jersey voters don’t tend to pay particular attention to gubernatorial races until October.
The two candidates for lieutenant governor also plan to debate on October 5.
In an August poll conducted by Monmouth, 80% of registered voters said they had not heard of Ciattarelli’s running mate, veteran lawmaker Diane Allen, while 66% said they had not heard from Sheila Oliver, who been the No. 2 in the state for the past four years and was Speaker of the Assembly before that.
Dustin Racioppi is a reporter at the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to his work covering the Governor of New Jersey and the political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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