Based on the first Republican debate, which I had the opportunity to watch in the NJN studio and participate in a panel discussion afterwards, it was clear that both Steve Lonegan and Chris Christie were well-prepared and able to stay on message throughout the exchange.
The format of the debate was lively and the questions asked by Bob Ingle, Cynthia Burton, Michael Aron, and two viewers via e-mail touched on most of the major issues that have framed the electoral contest to date. I think the format can be improved by allowing candidates more time to fully articulate their positions.
For example, Steve Lonegan is introducing ideas, including a flat tax and revenue redistribution formula that would fundamentally change the tax structure of state. The one minute response, thirty second rebuttal format did not allow him to provide a full explanation of the benefits of such shift, nor was he able to provide detailed examples of where such a system is working.
Chris Christie, on the other hand, was asked about the monitoring contracts he awarded as U.S. Attorney. His answer only touched on the surface of his rationale for awarding these contracts. He was not asked about the Deferred Prosecution Arrangements that led to these contracts and will need more than 90 seconds to educate voters on the intricacies and benefits of such arrangements.
As noted, both candidates were disciplined and stayed on message. Christie's message was a call for "commonsense conservatism," and he invoked the names of popular conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp as his models for this approach. Lonegan, too, invoked Reagan's name as the inspiration for his flat tax proposal. The former mayor also clearly called for a break from past Republican practices, which he described as "me, too" policies that are more in line with Democratic thinking than with traditional Republican positions.
In the end, the candidates took two different approaches in the debate. Christie was clearly running against Jon Corzine, criticizing the governor and linking him to former governor Jim McGreevey over a dozen times. Surprisingly it took until his closing remarks for Christie to finally utter the "C" word calling for a change in leadership and direction (which incidentally should be the centerpiece of all the Republican candidates' platforms). Lonegan was focused on the fight at hand and directed his criticisms at Christie's policies, noting or implying changes in his rival's positions and the stark differences between them in their fiscal approaches to solving the state's budget woes.
If you are interested in more information, visit the NJ and website at http://www.njn.net. You should be able to find the debate and the debate scorecard hosted by Michael Aron and featuring fellow PolitickerNJ.com columnists Alan Steinberg and Dick LaRossa and Rutgers' political analyst Ingrid Reed.