The Democratic U.S. Senate candidates sparred tonight on NJN, where Sen. Frank Lautenberg hit Rep. Rob Andrews on a broken promise, Rep. Rob Andrews hit Lautenberg for hypocrisy regarding his attacks on opponent Millicent Fenwick's age in 1982, and Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello just wanted to move on.
It was the final debate between the candidates before Tuesday's primary. Earlier today, ABC's Philadelphia affiliate aired a debate between Andrews and Cresitello, without Lautenberg, who turned it down.
After Lautenberg bemoaned Andrews's joint pledge with the rest of the state's Congressional delegation not to run a primary against Lautenberg, Cresitello said he was tired of hearing the story.
"This election should be about issues. We should stop discussing whether Rob didn't keep his word or if the Senator is too old," said Cresitello.
Andrews said he agreed with Cresitello's sentiments, but wanted to hold the Senator to account for what he saw as a double standard.
"The Senator raised this issue 26 years ago. I think he has to respond to that issue now," he said.
Lautenberg responded that his campaign against Fenwick was about effectiveness – not about age, which an Andrews ad explicitly focuses on.
"It didn't have anything to do with (Fenwick's) age. And it's the same thing Congressman Andrews has been doing now: he's not effective," said Lautenberg.
While often going after each other in the debate, Andrews and Lautenberg treated Cresitello, the extreme long-shot candidate, with kid gloves. When Gannett's Bob Ingle asked him about his role in the School Development Authority, where he works as a construction manager, both Lautenberg and Andrews said that none of the agency's waste can be traced back to him. And while Cresitello said that his paltry campaign sum of $100 is evidence that he's not beholden to party bosses, Andrews backed him up.
"I take the Mayor very seriously and I don't think it matters how much he's raised," he said.
Lautenberg tied Andrews to the Bush Administration on more issues than just the Iraq War. He noted that Andrews once voted against repealing the estate tax, to which Andrews responded that there was a budget surplus at the time and he's voted against it ever since.