Like the signs outside the theater at Bergen Community College, the candidates tried to step in front of one another last night.
For Steve Rothman, it was a chance to set himself apart ideologically.
“This race is gonna be about who is the progressive champion for Democratic Party values … who voted for TARP, who voted against TARP, who voted to restrict a woman’s right to choose 18 times, who always stood up for a woman’s right to choose, who was the first to call for our troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, who was the first to call for marriage equality.”
For Bill Pascrell, it is still more about geography and who should be running in the district.
“My opponent chose not to run in the district he was placed in. That’s pretty simple. Instead he chose to move into my district. That is not a very progressive move.”
Pascrell was characteristically combative, as when he recalled his first run for Congress.
“I was asked to run against a Republican incumbent. I didn’t hide under the desk.”
Rothman was entirely on message.
“I’m the progressive champion for this district. I have been for 16 years .. I’m here because I’m the Democratic progressive. I’m the progressive champion for our party so it’s clear who the progressive is in this race. Bill, it’s not you.”
Rothman boasted of bringing more money into the district, which Pascrell disputed.
Pascrell called himself a fighter and Rothman just a spectator.
Rothman was asked whether he’s alienating Muslims when he implies he is more pro-Israel than Pascrell.
“When the NYPD was surveilling Muslim Americans, I’m the only one who wrote to Attorney General Holder demanding an investigation,” responded Rothman.
“How dare anybody bring up my record on Israel,” Pascrell fired back. “We have exactly the same record on Israel, vote by vote. And to bring religion into this campaign is so obnoxious. Is this progressive?”
Afterwards, each candidate expressed satisfaction with his debate performance.
Said Rothman, “I think it went well. Clearly I’m the progressive voice of the Democratic Party in this election.”
“I thought it went well,” said Pascrell. “You could have predicted before all the continued lies he’s put forth in the campaign. Third party people have said these are false.”
For two guys with similar voting records, this debate produced some clear difference and genuine animosity. Their next debate is Monday, May 14 at 8 p.m. on NJTV.
Michael Aron reports from Paramus.