In the 4th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton) and Democratic challenger Josh Zeitz have two joint editorial board meetings scheduled before election day. Whether those count as debates depends on who you ask.
According to Zeitz, they don’t count, and Smith has ignored legitimate third party invitations to engage in actual public debates.
“They’re not public. Members of public can’t attend them, and the public can’t ask questions,” he said.
Most incumbent Congressmen have either debated or have agreed to debate their opponents – even the most long-shot challengers. Only U.S. Rep. Albio Sires and Republican challenger Joseph Turula don’t appear to have any scheduled (Turula could not be reached for comment).
Zeitz said that he’s accepted debate invitations from News 12 New Jersey and Veterans for Education. Smith, to his knowledge, has not responded to either.
“I don’t know whether he’s yet gotten it. But they should at least commit to the principle,” he said.
Smith, however, doesn’t often debate his opponents. Zeitz said he hasn’t given in to one since Assemblyman Reed Gusciora took him on in 2000.
Smith Campaign Manager Martin Gillespie, however, said that editorial board meetings are, in essence, debates.
“We have two editorial board debates confirmed for next week, where a team of journalists and editors will pose the questions to the candidates. Congressman Smith is looking forward to discussing his strong record of constituent services and legislative accomplishment,” said Gillespie.
Zeitz, however, feels that both he and the district’s residents are getting the same treatment as Smith did in 1982, when the 29-year-old Freshman Congressman approached his opponent, former state Senate president Joseph Merlino, to chat after a debate.
“He's developed a sense of extreme entitlement,” said Zeitz. “Basically, he's telling 650,000 residents of his district, ‘Beat it, kid.’”