It's almost like a special election for an open seat: sponsors of this week's gubernatorial debate are mulling candidates to fill the vacancy caused by the withdrawal of Tom Moran (I-Star-Ledger). Moran was slated to be the third panelist on Friday when Jon Corzine, Christopher Christie and Christopher Daggett in the second officially sanctioned debate. But the Star-Ledger withdrew as a sponsor after realizing they had violated a state law that requires debate sponsors to hold off on an official endorsement until the debate is over.
New Jersey again finds itself in need of a candidate switch. The remaining sponsors – William Paterson University, The Record, the Herald News, Fox News, WWOR-TV (Channel 9), and WTXF-TV (Channel 29), along with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission – must decide on a replacement candidate for Moran.
A spokesman for the debate, Patrick DeDeo of WPU, would not rule out the possibility of the seat remaining unfilled. That would leave The Record's Alfred Doblin and WTXF Fox 29 news anchor Thomas Drayton as the lone panelists. WOR's Harry Martin will be the moderator.
Moran, who recently returned to the Star-Ledger after a brief stint with PSE&G, has been following the gubernatorial race closely and has institutional knowledge of the candidates and the key issues of the campaign. So does Doblin, a veteran columnist and editorial editor. Drayton is newer to the scene: he joined the Philadelphia Fox affiliate last year after spending six years as an anchorman in Sacramento. He previously worked in Colorado, Alaska and Wyoming.
Debate organizers may look to fill the Moran seat with another reporter that has been actively covering the race for governor.
Some insiders wonder if the race for debate sponsor last summer (ELEC picked two out of three eligible candidates) might have been affected by the participation of the Star-Ledger, the state's daily newspaper. Had the Star-Ledger not been a candidate, perhaps the winner would have been the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, who had applied with a major media sponsor: ABC-TV's New York and Philadelphia affiliates. ABC had offered to pre-empt Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy to air the debate live on a weeknight from 7-8 PM. That's a better time slot that Fox, which will air the debate live on their website, and rebroadcast in Philadelphia at 2PM Saturday and in New York at noon on Sunday.
The first debate was sponsored by NJN, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Gannett New Jersey.
Possible candidates to replace Moran include Charles Stile and John Reitmeyer, reporters for The Record who have been covering state politics. Others: NJ 101.5's Kevin McArdle, Nick Acocella of Politifax, WNBC-TV reporter Brian Thompson, the New York Times' David Halbfinger, Angela Delli Santi of the Associated Press, or Max Pizarro and Matt Friedman of PolitickerNJ.com. All have been covering the race for Governor and did not participate in the first debate.
Editor's Note: We get that this isn't really a special election. There is some sarcasm involved.