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Senate Candidates Face Off in First of Three Debates

Incumbent says he's ‘fighting for middle class’ while GOP rival assails ‘these guys in Washington.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and his Republican challenger, state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, had little trouble keeping to their campaign scripts in the first of three scheduled debates held Thursday night in Montclair.

Before about 110 people in an auditorium at Montclair State University's Cali School of Music, Menendez talked of "fighting back for the middle class," while Kyrillosinsisted, “We can do better."

Although the hour-long event included wide-ranging questions from moderator Mick Schneider of NJTV, four panelists and one who submitted taped questions, they seldom ruffled either candidate.

Well into the debate,Kyrillos momentarily put Menendez on the defensive when discussing unsuccessful efforts to keep Fort Monmouth's operations from being shifted to Maryland. "I'm not sure where you were in that fight, Bob," Kyrillos said, one of a number of times he addressed his opponent directly as they stood at side-by-side podiums.

But Kyrillos made no direct response when Menendez repeatedly said he had of "walked out on women" by failing to vote on equal-pay measures and voting against women's health-care funding bills.

Afterward, only Menendez stayed around to claim victory to the media. The debate presented "a clear contrast," he said, and viewers could see "my views are more in the mainstream."

Kyrillos had to leave for another commitment, according to his campaign manager, Chapin Fay. But he disputed Menendez's comments, saying, "You have to take a position before you can claim an accomplishment."

As in Wednesday night's presidential debate, taxes and spending provided an undercurrent throughout the evening.

Menendez was prepared with specifics when asked about wasteful programs he had voted to eliminate to reduce the federal deficit, naming programs pushed more by partisan contributors than by the Pentagon: the F-22 fighter and a new fighter engine.

But Kyrillos said that, as on other issues, the incumbent spent too much time blaming the other party.

"It's always the other guy's fault," he said.

Repeatedly referring to Menendez as one of "these guys in Washington," Kyrillos said Congress needs more people with his experience of working with both sides in Trenton.

Following campaign strategy, Kyrillos laid the blame for the poor economy at Menendez's door.

"Bob keeps talking about fighting for the middle class... the middle class is getting buried," he said.

Because of gridlock in Congress, the nation faces the prospect of drastic program cuts and tax increases at the end of the year, a "fiscal cliff" self-created by both parties.

"Everybody's taxes are going to go up," Kyrillos warned.

But Menendez dismissed that prospect during and after the debate. Negotiations have been continuing in Washington, and "we're going to have a very robust lame duck session following the election on that very issue," he said. "I'm very optimistic that we will save the nation from such an economic body-blow."

When Kyrillos sought to blame Washington for New Jersey's even worse economy, Menendez responded that some blame should go to Gov. Chris Christie's job cuts, which his opponent has supported.

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

Bill Heller October 07, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Kyrillos "walked out" on his District 13 constituents by not even making a comment to support Union Beach in its fight to prevent a 38-story noisy industrial wind turbine with blades each the size of a cell tower from being erected way too close to a lot of homes. It would further degrade home values in our working class town, along with a host of other problems. Hazlet, Matawan, Holmdel, Keyport, Union Beach and Monmouth County (all within his district) also passed resolutions opposing the turbine. But still Kyrillos refused to weigh in, even after he granted a meeting to a few locals looking for his help. Recently, he was the only Republican sponsor on a bill that would have allowed wind turbines up to 500' tall on preserved farm land in two southern NJ counties. Kyrillos is not what he claims. He's a wheeling-and-dealing back door politician with no loyalty to the people he's supposed to represent. I'm a Republican, and will gladly vote for a write-in candidate as Kyrillos is deliberately throwing his Union Beach area constituents under the bus.
Stuart October 07, 2012 at 09:47 PM
What are you talking about? The Dims are the party of GREEN POWER. They forced wind turbines on Atlantic City years ago. Kyrilos wouldn't condone such a taxpayer waste of money. Obama and the Demss have been the ones forcing solar and wind down our throats.
Bill Heller October 08, 2012 at 08:22 AM
Stiart: Here's the URL for the bill, S2887, that "Provides for streamlined review of certain wind energy generation facility installations on farmland." http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bills/BillView.asp?BillNumber=S2887 It lists Senator Bob Smith, chair of the Environment and Energy Commitee, as sponsor. Smith has sponsored most of the wind turbine legislation in NJ and has gone out of his way to shaft Union Beach, but that's another story. The only cosponsor is Kyrillos. Even NJ Conservation and the Littoral Society came out against this bill....'nuff said. Kyrillos is the only R in bed with the wind industry in NJ.
Stuart October 08, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Bill thanks a lot for the info. I'm floored by this. Even many Dems don't like wind energy. When they wanted to put turbines off Martha's Vineyard years ago it was voted down by the Dem residents. I just shook hands with Smith last Saturday when he came out campaigning on our towns Community Day. If I had know this info I would have let him know(nicely of course) what I thought.
Marco Oldhafer October 08, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I sat with Kyrillos for 45 minutes about the turbine issue 2 years ago and all he said for 40 minutes is I agree they are awful and a waste, then in the last 5 he said what do you want me to do?????? I felt like he was just playing the people in the meeting for dummies. I respect people that disagree with me and tell me the truth this guy is a player!!!! I am republican......... but would never vote for him........ typical politician :(((

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