Guadagno, Murphy to Face Off in Final Debate

Kim Guadagno and Phil Murphy during the primary debates. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

Kim Guadagno and Phil Murphy will go head to head in their final debate Wednesday night with less than three weeks until voters pick the next New Jersey governor.

The 7 p.m. debate at William Paterson University in Wayne will be broadcast live on CBS’s New York and Philadelphia television affiliates.

Round two of Murphy vs. Guadagno could be a fiery debate if the last week is any indication. The candidates ramped up attacks on each other after their first debate, with Guadagno pummeling Murphy over his immigration policies and Murphy invoking the Bridgegate scandal in attacking Guadagno.

“I think now it’s personal,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University. “They walked into the debate last week just trying to stick their toe in the water and certainly put forth their own positions and took a few jabs at their opponent.

“I think tonight I’m expecting a much more bloody circus. I think tempers might be flaring.”

In particular, Murphy may fire back at Guadagno for her television ad accusing him of supporting “deranged murders” in wanting to make New Jersey a sanctuary state, which would limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. Guadagno has taken heat for the incendiary attack ad, with some describing it as racially divisive. Murphy may be “indignant” about how his immigration policies have been portrayed and want to respond, Harrison said.

Down by double digits in the polls, Guadagno has shifted farther to the right with her new emphasis on immigration. She continued to attack Murphy over immigration during an appearance last week on the “Fox & Friends” morning show. The move may have generated more energy and enthusiasm from President Trump supporters, but there may not be enough of them to win a statewide election in blue New Jersey, Harrison said.

Murphy is also trying to rally his base with a new ad that tries to link Guadagno to the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. “Their biggest triumph was a traffic jam. Chris Christie and Kim Guadagno’s failures shortchanged our future,” Murphy says in the 30-second spot.

Guadagno, the state’s lieutenant governor, was never linked to the traffic plot. Although Christie was implicated to varying degrees by several court witnesses on the stand, he was not charged and has denied any involvement.

Like the first debate, the event Wednesday night will be moderated by reporters from out-of-state news outlets. Harrison said she hopes the CBS moderators follow the example set by NJTV’s Michael Aron, who was able to fact check the candidates on the spot and asked many follow-up questions during Monday’s lieutenant governor candidate debate.

“Get them answering specific questions, particularly about taxes which is what New Jerseyans care about,” Harrison said.

Guadagno, Murphy to Face Off in Final Debate