Guadagno and Murphy Will Have Debate Stage to Themselves

Only Kim Guadagno and Phil Murphy qualified for the two debates in the New Jersey governor's race.

Kim Guadagno and Jack Ciattarelli debate during the primaries. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

It’s official: Kim Guadagno and Phil Murphy will have the debate stage to themselves for two encounters in October.

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A range of independent candidates will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot for the governor’s race, but only Guadagno and Murphy met the $430,000 fundraising threshold required by New Jersey election law to participate in the debates as of today’s deadline.

That $430,000 threshold is also the minimum required in fundraising for candidates who wish to participate in the state’s public financing program. Candidates who qualify receive two dollars for every one dollar raised. Murphy has received $3.3 million in public matching funds, while Guadagno has pulled in about $889,000, according to the latest reports from the Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Murphy, a Democrat who promises to raise taxes on wealthy earners and big businesses by $1.3 billion, has a wide lead in public polling and is seen as the odds-on favorite to win in November. Guadagno, the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, likely will try to focus the debate on her promise to cut property taxes and make Murphy defend his proposed hikes.

The 2017 gubernatorial debates are set for Oct. 10 and Oct. 18 and will be televised and streamed online, with TV news anchors and journalists from the state’s major newspapers moderating. A separate debate between the lieutenant governor candidates, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) and Republican Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo, is scheduled for Oct. 16.

Five independent candidates will appear on the November ballot, according to the New Jersey Division of Elections. They are Gina Genovese, an independent; Seth-Kaper Dale, the Green Party nominee; Constitution Party candidate Matthew Riccardi; Peter Rohrman, the Libertarian Party nominee; and Vincent Ross, another independent.

Kaper-Dale said Friday that the state should lower the participation threshold for the debates to the “range of $50,000 at the highest.” He also called on public polling institutions to include all registered candidates in their surveys.

“We did not make the goal, nor did we even really get close to the goal financially,” Kaper-Dale said, noting that his campaign has so far raised in the ballpark of $100,000. “Money should not be the determining factor in the way of political engagement.”

Rohrman said he hopes to arrange an alternative debate for independent candidates who did not qualify for the two state-sponsored events.

“It is just unfair because many people out there are unhappy with the old parties and they want somebody third-party to vote for, but they are not going to learn about them if they don’t get into the debate,” Rohrman said. “I am going to start reaching out to the other candidates who didn’t qualify … to see if we can have our own kind of undercard debate.”

Only three independent candidates have ever qualified for the gubernatorial debates. The first was Libertarian candidate Murray Sabrin in 1997, with $589,134 in funds. Chris Daggett, an independent, qualified in 2009, when Gov. Chris Christie won his first term.

Guadagno and Murphy Will Have Debate Stage to Themselves