STATE — Observers say conservative firebrand Steve Lonegan won the first of two televised debates between the candidates who are running in New Jersey’s special election Oct. 16 to fill the remaining 15 months of the seat vacated by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s death.
Cory Booker and Lonegan met before WABC News cameras on Friday, but the confrontation will not be broadcast until Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m., when voters may watch the showdown on Channel 7 in the New York metropolitan area and WPVI-6 out of Philadelphia.
Lonegan scorned Booker’s record as mayor of Newark, citing a rise in violence and unemployment in the city while making six-digit salaries going on speaking tours around the country.
“We simply cannot allow Cory Booker to bring his failed record as mayor of Newark to the U.S. Senate,” said Lonegan.
“The only economic growth in Newark is the pocketbook of Cory Booker,” Lonegan said. “Mayor, you’ve made your entire fortune as the mayor of Newark” getting paid for out of state speaking engagements.
“We need a leader, not a tweeter,” said Lonegan, noting that Booker has more than a million Twitter followers.
The two candidates will debate again Wednesday night at Rowan University. Booker has raised a lot more money than his opponent, but he also has not been available to answer questions about accusations Lonegan has fired against him.
The fundraising disparity reflects a sense among many New Jersey Democrats that Booker and Lonegan are equally distant from the views and concerns of average people in the state, but the Republican is less dependent on the largess of millionaires and billionaires.
Lonegan rolled out a red carpet at a Newark restaurant to mock Booker’s appearance at a star-studded Hollywood fundraiser and stood outside the New York headquarters of Waywire, Booker’s failing social media startup company that funded by Silicon Valley investors.
New Jersey voters are largely unaware of Booker’s positions on many issues and his highly controlled political persona seems contrived on health care, gay marriage, abortion, education, and job creation.
Nearing the day of decision, his election operation resulted in eroding support and being described in a recent Politico.com story as “Cory Booker’s lackluster campaign.”
Booker has aired commercials slamming Lonegan, who has been endorsed by Gov. Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, Sen. Rand Paul and a number of GOP leaders deeply rooted in New Jersey.
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