Final governor’s debate gets hot, but did it enlighten?

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

It was Kim Guadagno’s final opportunity to be seen on the same stage as the Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, whom the polls say she trails by anywhere from 12 to 18 points. For Murphy, who pretty much admitted last week that he didn’t think he did all that well in the first debate, he needed to land a few blows. Whether you thought either side got the job done probably depends on whose side you were on in the first place.

“Anybody who knows me, knows I’m not Chris Christie,” asserted Guadagno, to which Murphy replied, “The lieutenant governor has been standing beside the governor 2,829 days, so his record is her record.”

Both candidates brought their sharpest attacks to the debate and there were a few exchanges that suggested heightened passions in the last few weeks of this heretofore sleepy contest. By and large, though, the candidates tried to stick to their well-rehearsed lines, hoping their sound bites would resonate with voters, although, if you were an undecided voter, the lack of specificity might have left you wanting, no matter how lively the exchanges.

“I’m going to lower property taxes and you’re going to raise them and you’re going to move these people out of New Jersey,” Guadagno said.

Murphy replied, “You’ve left the middle class behind and now you’ve left the truth behind.”

“I have to comment on the public bank,” Guadagno said. “The public bank of New Jersey is what I call the wacky bank of New Jersey. I can’t imagine a worse idea.”

“I think an audit’s a good idea, too. By the way, 2,829 days, we could’ve had an audit I think accomplished by now. I don’t think a fancy title, a gimmick, the circuit buzzer — it sounds like an overstock item at Crazy Eddie’s — that’s not a plan,” Murphy said.

Murphy had a hard time explaining his position on the two percent annual salary cap for public employees. And Guadagno couldn’t quite clear herself from Christie’s shadow. They differed on sanctuary states — he’d make New Jersey one; she’d cooperate with the feds on immigration raids. He would offer free community college tuition; she says the state can’t afford it. Afterwards, each thought they had scored a victory.

“I felt good about it,” said Murphy. “I would just say I don’t think that my opponent put a sliver of daylight between herself and the governor.”

Guadagno saw it differently. “The one thing we saw tonight is Phil Murphy is a fraud,” she said. “What do I mean by that? He kept making promise after promise after promise to fund project after project after project and yet he has no plan to pay for it.”

With about three weeks left until Election Day, the race has tightened, and with the face-to-face debates over, both campaigns will concentrate on turning out voters, which may prove to be the toughest part of this campaign.