Rob Andrews finally got an answer from Frank Lautenberg about participating in debates, but it wasn’t the one he wanted to hear.
The Lautenberg campaign yesterday turned down a debate offered jointly by Richard Stockton College and the Press of Atlantic City, saying that the dates offered- May 5th and 6th – conflicted with Lautenberg’s Senate schedule.
“When I got into this race I challenged the incumbent Senator to a minimum of seven debates. He has danced, bobbed, weaved hidden and we really had no answer until yesterday,” said Andrews in a conference call with reporters. “Yesterday, for the first time, we have a definitive answer, and it’s the wrong one.”
The invitation was open ended when it was first made earlier this month, but after not hearing back from Lautenberg for about a week, organizers set the dates. Press of Atlantic City political editor John Froonjian, who helped organize the event, said that, had the Lautenberg campaign told them that the debates conflicted earlier on, they would have been able to offer alternate dates.
Andrews called the refusal “outright disrespectful to the people of our state.” When asked by a reporter, he said that he’s not calling on debates in order to contrast his own age (50) with Senator Lauteneberg’s (84). But he did acknowledge that age is a factor in the race.
“Age is an issue in this race, and it’s an issue for the voters to decide the impact and effectiveness of that issue,” said Andrews.
He was joined on the conference call by state Sen. Jim Whelan.
“Quite simply, I believe not debating is a disservice to voters,” said Whelan. “If you’re going to be a candidate for any office there is a responsibility and an expectation that there will be debates.”
Whelan said that, if anything, having a debate in South Jersey would be advantageous to Lautenberg, since it would give him the opportunity to make inroads into Lautenberg’s base of support.
But while Andrews had called for a minimum of seven debates, Whelan signaled that the campaign may be willing to accept a few less.
“If not seven debates, let’s have three or four debates,” he said. “One here in the south, one in central and one in northern Jersey.”
Lautenberg’s campaign has previously responded that Andrews has spent more time politicking than casting bills in Congress, noting that he missed all the House votes last week. But Andrews today did go to Washington today to cast votes, including a genetic testing bill and a student loan bill that he helped usher through.
Andrews Campaign Chairman Mike Murphy noted that presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are both members of the Senate, and they’ve found time to engage in 21 debates.
Lautenberg spokeswoman Julie Roginsky said that she was talking with debate sponsors about dates, and that the Lautenberg camp would sit down with the Andrews camp to negotiate them. Andrews has said that he’ll accept any debate from a credible organization at any time.
“What would be disrespectful for the people of New Jersey is if Senator Lautenberg had skipped the votes in the Senate to the campaign, which is exactly what Rep. Andrews has been doing,” she said.