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Booker, Lonegan to Spar in US Senate Debate

There won’t be much common ground when Democrat Cory Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan meet in their first debate in New Jersey’s U.S. Senate campaign.

Special Senate Election candidates Democrat Cory Booker (L) and Republican Steve Lonegan
Special Senate Election candidates Democrat Cory Booker (L) and Republican Steve Lonegan (Facebook)

Lonegan believes in limited government, opposes the nation’s new health insurance law and applauds shutting down the government over the law. Booker circulated a petition urging Congress to end the shutdown and believes the new health care law will give access to insurance to those who can’t otherwise afford it.

The pair will meet for the taping of their first face-to-face debate on Friday, and again five days later for their second and last.

The first debate will be televised Sunday morning on WPVI in Philadelphia and WABC in New York.

The special election to fill the remaining 15 months of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s term will be Oct. 16.

Voters already engaged in the race are unlikely to discover any surprises about the candidates, who hold starkly different views on virtually every issue.

On guns, Lonegan supports fewer restrictions on gun owners, while Booker favors more controls on firearms. On gay marriage and raising the minimum wage, their differences are just as obvious: Lonegan opposes gay marriage and efforts to raise the minimum wage; Booker supports both.

Lonegan, the underdog, has so far been the aggressor in the race, and that is unlikely to change in the debates.

“We’ll see a very aggressive Steve Lonegan, who will stand up for his conservative beliefs of limited government,” said Ben Dworkin director of The Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “Cory Booker will restate his position of government bringing people together and that necessitating compromise.”

The positions of most New Jersey voters line up more closely with Booker’s, and he enjoys a comfortable double-digit lead over the former state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group founded by billionaire businessmen David and Charles Koch. But a steady stream of Lonegan barbs has cut into Booker’s lead, and comfort level, as shown by a new television ad released Tuesday in which Booker describes Lonegan as “too extreme” for New Jersey.

The race has produced some theatrical moments, such as when Lonegan rolled out a red carpet at a restaurant to mock Booker’s appearance at a fundraiser in California with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Or when he held a news conference in front of two derelict Newark properties once owned by Booker and since donated to charity. Or when he stood outside the New York headquarters of Waywire, Booker’s social media startup, to call attention to his opponent’s relationship to Silicon Valley investors.

Booker, who is better known than Lonegan and has raised a lot more money, has mostly stayed above the fray. But he also hasn’t been available much to answer questions about the accusations Lonegan has levied.

In the debate, Lonegan said he will press Booker on his record as mayor of the state’s largest city.


(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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