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Booker, Lonegan trade jabs over development, Obamacare in opening senatorial debate

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Cory Booker, left, and Steve Lonegan
Cory Booker, left, and Steve Lonegan - (NJBIZ, from file photos)

Panasonic, Manischewitz and Audible.com were just some of the companies Newark mayor Cory Booker rattled off this afternoon during his first senatorial debate as evidence of economic development and growth in New Jersey's largest city during his tenure.

Booker, a Democrat, said that in his time as mayor, Newark has seen its biggest economic boom since the 1950's and 1960's while watching its population rise for the first time in decades.

Later in the debate Booker echoed that sentiment when asked to describe his signature issue, to which he replied, "jobs, jobs, jobs."

"We've got to start investing again in things that create jobs in New Jersey," Booker said.

But Republican challenger and ex-Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan doesn't see Booker as the "jobs" candidate. Lonegan today dwelled on crime in Newark and noted that when he drives into the city, all the examples of economic development Booker speaks about are not so apparent.

"The only economic growth in Newark is the pocketbook of Cory Booker," Lonegan said.

The two candidates clashed over most issues today in what was the first of two total debates prior to the upcoming special election on Oct. 16. The two are competing to fill the longtime seat held by Frank Lautenberg, who died in June of pneumonia at age 89.

The debate began with discussion on the Affordable Care Act and the current status of federal shutdown in Washington.

Lonegan, a staunch opponent of Obamacare, applauded House Republicans for efforts to repeal the law, which he claimed was "an absolute train wreck."

But Booker attempted to paint Lonegan as part of the problem rather than any hope at a solution to the gridlock facing Washington. Booker blamed the shutdown on the "Tea Pary fringe, which my opponent represents."

"My opponent is going to make everything that's wrong with Washington worse," Booker said.

Speaking to other elements of economic growth, Booker called for a raising of the minimum wage, investment in infrastructure and simplification of the corporate tax code with the elimination of unnecessary loopholes.

Lonegan stressed the importance of limiting government involvement in the private sector and instead embracing a system rooted in small business and free enterprise.

"We need to cut the size of government," Lonegan said. "Cut hard and cut deep."

"We need to get regulators off the backs of New Jersey businesses," he added.

When asked about his signature issue, Lonegan said he wants "to be known as the man who dismantled the IRS as we know it."

In the hour-long debate the two also tackled a wide-range of social and foreign security issues such as abortion, matters related to NSA surveillance and relations with Iran.

Throughout the course of the debate, Lonegan and Booker also made sure to get their personal jabs in as well.

While Booker repeatedly labeled Lonegan as an "extreme" candidate that aligned his views with a radical Tea Party faction of the party, Lonegan attacked Booker's celebrity status and social media prowess.

"New Jersey needs a leader, not a tweeter," Lonegan said of Booker.

Filmed in ABC's television studio in Trenton, the debate was streamed online and will be broadcast Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on the channel's Philadelphia affiliate and at 11:00 a.m. in the New York market.

Booker and Lonegan will meet again Wednesday night at Rowan University for what will be their final debate.

Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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