The incumbent governor, Phil Murphy, debated former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli Tuesday night.

Murphy looked like a frazzled used car salesman who wasn’t sure where he’d left the keys.

Ciattarelli looked like a confident, patient, capable grownup who wasn’t afraid to say how he feels.

Murphy, when asked about how his campaign had treated women, stammered through an admission of having apologized to Katie Brennan who said she was raped by another staffer and nothing was done about it. He never offered anything reassuring. He looked guilty as hell.

When asked about his lateness in calling a state of emergency the night Ida hit, his trying to deflect and turn it into a climate change question fell flat.

One third of all New Jersey COVID deaths were from his decision to send sick patients back to nursing homes. When asked if he’d do things differently he became defensive and churlish.

Murphy didn’t seem to be used to someone challenging him so confidently. Like a lot of rich guys, he’s probably not used to being called out on things.

Ciattarelli did it with style. He told it as he saw it regarding Murphy, unflinchingly and confidently without being in the gutter about it. I thought he was one class act.

When asked by WABC’s Sade Baderinwa, who clearly had an agenda, about his position on critical race theory, Ciattarelli elegantly explained his view. He cited the wrongness of racism and the words of MLK Jr. yet refused to allow white people to be the sole villain in the ordeal of oppression. In different words, he proposed that racism was systemic but too complex an issue to simply leave at the doorstep of all white people. Good for him.

In the abortion discussion, he dominated Murphy. He made clear that he was not looking to overturn Roe v. Wade yet threw shade at Murphy over attempts to allow abortions into seventh, eighth and even ninth months.

The number one thing that’s sold me on Jack Ciattarelli is a response he had to the same abortion issue in the primary debate. After wacko right-winger Hirsh Singh rambled on with alt-right abortion views that a woman pregnant by rape should still be denied an abortion, Ciattarelli was succinct.

"I can’t look a woman in the eye and tell her she has to carry her rapist’s baby. I can’t do that."

This was an amazing moment considering a primary is when politicians have to play to the hardest right or left and the least moderate. Moderation comes in the general election. When he gave that answer in a Republican primary debate he knew it could cost him the more extreme conservatives. But he didn’t hesitate to speak from the gut and tell us how he truly felt. I’ve been a supporter ever since.

In Tuesday’s debate, the most amazing moment came when Murphy was challenging Ciattarelli in appearing at a Trump rally where some were holding up Stop The Steal signs. Ciattarelli pointed out he was invited there to speak and was told the point of the rally was the upcoming 2021 election. Besides, Ciattarelli explained, he had already been on record that Biden had won the election. Something not nearly enough Republicans have had the guts to do even now let alone three months after the election.

Murphy, desperate to make Ciattarelli look bad, wouldn’t let it go, saying the rally that day was “the exact same cocktail” as the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol where “people died.”

Without missing a beat Ciattarelli came back with, “You mean like the people in the nursing homes and Tropical Storm Ida?”

It left Murphy even more off balance. It was hands down the mic drop moment of the night.

Who do YOU think won the debate? Take our poll.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.

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