Democratic Senate challenger Rep. Rob Andrews continues to hit his primary opponent, Frank Lautenberg, for not yet agreeing to an aggressive debate schedule.
But Lautenberg’s campaign countered that they’re trying to fit a debate schedule in with Senate business, noting that Andrews has spent his time campaigning instead of casting votes in the House.
Andrews has even gone so far as to set up a hotline to keep track of the “missing Senator,” and said that he’s heard mixed messages from the Senator and his campaign staff about whether he will participate in debates.
"Effective today we are encouraging all New Jersey Democrats to call and email us if they find Senator Lautenberg and tell us what his latest excuse is on why he won’t debate Congressman Andrews,” said an Andrews press release.
In a conference call with reporters today, Andrews reiterated that he’s accepted 11 debate invitations from press organizations across the state, noting that Lautenberg has not yet agreed to any.
Andrews brought up Lautenberg’s first Senate campaign against Republican Millicent Fenwick in 1982. Lautenberg had challenged Fenwick to 21 debates – one in each of the state’s counties. Fenwick agreed to participate in five.
“He said that five wasn’t enough in 1982 when he accused Millicent Fenwick of not being energetic enough to represent people in the state.” said Andrews. “The Senator was right in 1982, and he should follow his own advice in 2008, and he should debate. I don’t take anyone’s vote for granted.”
Lautenberg spokeswoman Julie Roginsky said that Andrews’s campaigning has caused him to miss a week’s worth of votes in Congress. The reason that the Lautenberg campaign has not yet committed to debates, she said, is that they’re working around the Senate’s schedule.
“I’m not debating debates for him,” she said. “We’re in the process of working out debates right now, but I would advise him to remember that we have a Senate schedule to keep to…. which Rep. Andrews doesn’t seem to think is a priority since he’s skipped a week’s worth of votes so far.”
“Over an 18 year career in the House Andrews has among the best voting records," said Andrews Campaign Chairman Michael Murphy. "I expect the Lautenberg camp will want to get bogged down in the details. Rob made it clear that he will go anywhere, whatever the format, whoever the moderator is.”
Andrews is heading down to Washington on Wednesday for important votes.
Andrews himself has frequently cited his own “energy” in his stump speeches, contrasting that to what he says it the 84-year-old incumbent’s “tired, stale, old status quo politics.” But when asked by a reporter whether he was bringing up the term to remind voters of Lautenberg’s age, Andrews said that the voters will decide whether it’s an important factor.
“The voters are going to have to answer that question, not me. And part of the way they’ll answer that question is to see whether people debate, what they’ll stand for,” he said.
Andrews listed a number of issues he’d like the opportunity to debate Lautenberg on, including the high price of gasoline, the Iraq War and health care. He would be happy with a minimum of seven debates.
Lautenberg actually addressed the oil cost issue in the Democratic Party’s weekly radio address on Saturday, blaming “big oil,” speculators and Republicans for the high price of gas. But Andrews said it wasn’t enough.
“The Senator gave a speech on Saturday – that’s very nice,” he said. “That’s not going to do anything for the people who are outraged about paying $4.00 a gallon for gasoline.”
Andrews said that part of the problem springs from the domination of refiners in specific markets, noting that Sun Oil Co. supplies 2/3 of the gasoline for the south Jersey market. He said that one way to address the issue is to work hard to get a Democratic administration in the White House.