Despite Sharp Contrasts, Booker, Bell Will Debate Only Once in U.S. Senate Race

By David Cruz

Jeff Bell doesn’t have a campaign headquarters yet, so we meet in the lobby of a hotel in Teaneck, which lets the Republican use the free WiFi. It’s the kind of no frills campaign you might expect from a guy most polls predict will lose by double figures. But Bell, who first ran for the U.S. Senate way back in 1978, says he’s the right guy at the right time, a Republican running in a state that polls suggest is fed up with the Democratic president and perhaps the guy who carries his water.

“He has the same ideology, the same policies as President Obama and we’ve had nearly six years to see if that works, in the economy, foreign policy, values or anything else, and it doesn’t work,” Bell said today. “He doesn’t wanna change it. He has no ideas how to improve the economy, which is stagnant in this state and in this country as a whole.”

Bell believes the foundation of the U.S. economy is upside down. His main campaign theme is a return to the gold standard, which ties the U.S. dollar to a fixed quantity of gold. It’s an idea which has been largely dismissed, and in New Jersey, doesn’t register in the top 10 or even 20 list of important issues.

“It’s very important [to note] that this is a widely debunked and defunct scheme that actually guts the middle class, hurts our economy, would make recessions even worse,” said Booker.

That’s as much of a debate as you’re likely to get from these two because, right now, the biggest issue in this campaign is the lack of debates, only one in a contest to choose a U.S. senator for the next six years. But Booker says he’s not inclined to help Bell get exposure for his campaign.

“We’re going to have one lively debate, but the reality is that the best thing we can do is go directly to voters and get our message out, and we’ve had events in every single section of our state and the reality is, he’s got a challenge,” said the Democrat. “If you haven’t lived in the state for the last 30 years and you’re right, he’s got to figure out every way he can possibly to try to get the message out.”

But Bell challenged Booker on that, saying Booker has no interest in discussing issues. “I think it’s an amazing act of irresponsibility to say that you’re running for a six-year Senate term and you don’t want to debate more than once,” he said. “He’s actually pulled out of two other debates that his people were negotiating.”

Bell says he has gotten some fundraising support from Gov. Chris Christie, who will have another fundraiser for Bell next week. The governor insists Bell is a potential upset winner and that the two will campaign together soon.

“I think it’s extraordinary that I saw a poll came out this week that showed he was only nine points down, given how under-funded he’s been in comparison to Sen. Booker,” said Christie last month, “so I think it’s a reflection of the mood in the country that I’ve seen. You know, when you have a president who’s at 44 percent job approval, which is the lowest of any president has been in the last 20 years at this stage going into the mid-term, I think it’s reflective of that.”

The differences between Booker and Bell are large. One is the very model of a modern major party candidate, and the other is a guy whose campaign headquarters is a hotel lobby. Voters who say they want a choice at the polls should be pleased, assuming they’re even paying attention.