U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg stood on his home turf today to show his support with the Hispanic community, as his primary opponent, Rep. Rob Andrews, was beginning a weekend incursion into Lautenberg's north Jersey strongholds.
Hours after Andrews hit Paterson – where Lautenberg grew up – to accept the endorsement of Passaic County Terry Duffy, Lautenberg headed to Jersey City to stand with about a dozen mostly Hispanic elected officials led by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez.
At the Andrews event, Duffy was much more explicit about Lautenberg's senior citizen status than Andrews has been so far during the campaign. Still, it was circulated in a press release by the Andrews camp.
"When Sen. Lautenberg ran against Millicent Fenwick in 1982, he said she was too old to run again, and he defeated her with that argument. If he thought it was a legitimate issue then, it should be a legitimate issue now," said Duffy.
Andrews, who's from Camden County, will be campaigning over the weekend on Lautenberg's home turf: he plans to swing through Newark and hold town hall meetings in Montclair and Jersey City (with Councilman Steven Fulop, a potential mayoral candidate).
At the Liberty House Restaurant in Jersey City today – in the exact same room where Republican Senate candidate Joe Pennacchio kicked off his campaign in January – Lautenberg stressed his own background as the son of hard working, blue collar immigrants and related it to the Hispanic-American experience.
Lautenberg mentioned his commitment to educational funding and noted that just yesterday he passed a measure to counteract President Bush's directive against expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Lautenberg even took a dig at his own age when talking about how he benefited from the GI bill.
"I went to college ahead of the time that Bob Menendez did," he said.
Lautenberg acknowledged to reporters that Andrews has basically made his campaign about the age issue, but disputed the notion he doesn't have the "energy" for the job.
"They try to couch it in other words," said Lautenberg. "But I want Rob Andrews to go to the senior communities in this state of ours, and tell them that I'm too old, that age is the only thing that matters, that effectiveness does not count."
Hearing the issue of age come up, Menendez stepped in to attest to Lautenberg's youthful vigor.
"When the train comes and goes from the capitol he shows off and outruns me. Seriously – and I'm a jogger," he said. "If that's the best that our opponent can get engaged in, boy is it a sorry campaign. This person has incredible success in the senate."
When asked whether he would participate in any more debates than the two he's signed for, Lautenberg said that the campaign process is essentially one long debate.
"We debate every day. We debate as we present ourselves to the public. I want to hear him discuss what he thinks we should do," he said.
Lautenberg has agreed to two debates – one on radio and one on public television – just a few days before the primary election. After the event, spokeswoman Julie Roginsky signaled that there will not likely be any more.
"I think two debates is pretty good for a seven week campaign," she said.