Live blogging the U.S. Senate debate


Update, 7:30pm: Lautenberg is spending a lot of time debating President Bush’s policies, and trying to hang the Republican label on Zimmer.

Zimmer, however, left office four years before Bush was elected.

“You blame Republicans for sharing responsibility in the national debt. I agree with you entirely. I think one of the reasons why the Republican majority was voted out in 2006 is because people forgot that we were the party of fiscal responsibility,” said Zimmer.

Lautenberg, for his part, hit Zimmer on his favorite topic.

“Dick Zimmer takes credit for lots of things – particularly not bringing any money home to our state, because he’s particularly against that, these things that he defines as earmarks.

Update, 7:22pm: Scott pressed the candidates to define middle-class in terms of income.

Lautenberg referred to Obama’s tax plan, pegging it at under $250,000, with the caveat that it depends how large the family is.

Zimmer said he couldn’t put a number on it, but faulted Lautenberg for not fighting to change the tax code to recognize that would take into account the much higher cost of living here than in other parts of the country.

Update, 7:15pm: Interestingly, the first question and Scott’s follow up are about illegal immigration. That really has not been a big issue in this campaign, from either candidate.

Zimmer said Lautenberg needed to live up to the bill he voted for in the 1980s that allowed current illegal immigrants to stay but cracked down on future illegal immigration.

Lautenberg said “we need cooperation from the business community” for employers to check whether their employees are legal immigrants.

Update, 7:12pm: Lautenberg won the coin toss and goes first.

“I’m running again because of the failed policies of the Bush Administration.”

That sounds familiar.

“One of things I immediately did was to try to reduce the burden on the taxpayers by makin sure that 1 million of our tax payers are not subject to the [Alternative Minimum Tax].”

And there it is, an SCHIP reference.

Zimmer, for his part, lamented Lautenberg’s reluctance to debate more and noted that he wouldn’t debate on Philadelphia or New York television (no offense, 101.5 and NJN).

Update, 7:02pm: In the pre-debate roundup, host Eric Scott played a clip of FDU pollster/professor Peter Woolley saying that this might be “the most obscure senate race in the country.”

Contrary to popular belief, there is a New Jersey U.S. Senate race this year.

Aside from their joint editorial board meeting with Gannett, tonight is the first debate between U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and former Rep. Dick Zimmer – a race that, to Zimmer’s chagrin, has been fairly under the media’s radar.

The two are going head to head at New Jersey 101.5’s studios, but the debate will be rebroadcast on News 12 New Jersey tomorrow night. On Saturday, they’ll go one-on-one at NJN. Those are the exact same outlets that Lautenberg agreed to debate primary challenger U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews on. Like those debates, these both occur shortly before the election, making it unlikely that they’ll change the course of the campaigns.

Although a couple recent polls have shown Zimmer trailing Lautenberg in the high single digits, other polls have shown a double digit spread. It’s an uphill battle for Zimmer, who admits that a large part of his success depends on the top of the ticket, and John McCain is faring even worse in the Garden State.

Expect Lautenberg to bring up some of the federal funding he’s brought into New Jersey, especially for transportation infrastructure. He’ll probably note his fight against President Bush on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Zimmer will almost certainly brandish his anti-pork credentials based on his three terms in the House in the 1990s, and note that New Jersey ranks dead last in the amount of money it gets back from the federal government versus how much it puts in – lower than when Lautenberg first took office in 1983.

Live blogging the U.S. Senate debate