Pallone challenges Booker to multiple debates in New Jersey Senate race

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) on Monday challenged Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and other Democrats to "multiple" debates in the New Jersey Senate special election primary, hoping to give his campaign a shot of momentum. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Booker has led in every poll of the Democratic field by substantial double-digit margins over Pallone and fellow New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt. 

But debates could provide both members of Congress a chance to gain ground on the front-runner by demonstrating their facility on national and foreign policy issues, where Booker lacks experience.

Pallone's campaign said it is calling for multiple debates because it is "critically important" for voters to be able to make their decision on the candidates based on how they "would handle the important matters confronting the nation as opposed to having that decisions based solely on slick TV ads and 20 second sound bites."

In a statement to The Hill, Holt agreed with Pallone on the necessity for a series of debates. He suggested that candidates who haven't yet held national office — Booker and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver — need to clarify their positions on federal issues.

"Elections are ultimately about substance, and debates are the best way for voters to judge who is the most substantive and experienced candidate. That's especially important because some candidates in this race have never held federal office and have never shared their views on many issues facing New Jersey and our country," he said.

None of Pallone's Democratic opponents, including Booker, Holt and Oliver, have yet agreed to a number or schedule for debates. 

Pallone's staff said the longtime lawmaker hasn't decided on a specific number of forums he'd like to see.

Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for Booker, said while the mayor "looks forward to sharing the stage with his Democratic colleagues and to discussing the issues important to New Jersey voters," he's still working on his schedule for the coming months.

"The campaign will be evaluating debate and forum invitations in the coming weeks as the mayor works to introduce himself to New Jerseyans in every part of the state," Griffis said.

The primary in the race to replace deceased Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) is on Aug. 13. The general election is set for Oct. 16.

A Monmouth University poll last week showed Booker leading the Democratic field with 63 percent support. Holt had 10 percent, Pallone was third with 8 percent and Oliver had 6 percent support.