Menendez and Kyrillos Face Off in First Senate Debate

A first debate often brings out supporters and color and hubbub. Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R–Monmouth) was looking to pull off a Mitt Romney and reset the U.S. Senate race. Incumbent Bob Menendez (D-NJ) got stuck in traffic and almost didn’t make it.

In his opening, Kyrillos said if you think things are just fine, you’ll choose Menendez again. Menendez talked about his commitment to fighting for the middle class.

Moderator and NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider asked the candidates to get beyond clichés and identify one thing about the other guy that makes him less qualified to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“The middle class is not doing very well at all,” said Kyrillos. “I read the press releases that you put out and I heard your opening statement, but I don’t hear any action items about how we’re gonna do it better.” Kyrillos said to his opponent.

“My opponent would take us back to the very policies that got us into this mess in the first place,” argued Menendez. “When [Kyrillos] had the opportunity, he voted against raising the minimum wage and then voted for tax breaks for millionaires. When he had an opportunity, he ultimately cut funding for education that led to teachers being left out of their classroom.”


Kyrillos warned that when the Bush tax cuts expire in December, taxes will rise, saying “my opponent supports a plan that will increase the rates for everybody beginning in January.”

Menendez called out Kyrillos’ claim as a scare tactic. “It would be a body blow to the economy and no one’s’ gonna allow that to take place,” he said.

Asked about gridlock, Kyrillos seemed to rise to the question. “This is one of the biggest style differences between Sen. Menendez and me,” Kyrillos said. “Bob is very rigid, very ideological. I wanna work with everybody.”

Menendez replied he has worked with Republicans on autism, on sanctions on Iran and on housing for the disabled.

“Those are three of many examples I can give where I have worked with Republican senators on the other side to make a difference for New Jersey families,” countered Menendez. “Joe talks about being bipartisan all the time. His record is 90 percent of his votes are in line with his party in the state legislature.”

Both Menendez and Kyrillos appeared to be in good form in their first debate. Certainly there was plenty of contrast. They debate again next Wednesday on NJ101.5 radio.

Reporting from the campus of Montclair State University, Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron reports.

Related: NJ Decides 2012: Kyrillos/Menendez Debate for U.S. Senate