TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s two top candidates to succeed Republican Chris Christie as governor are weeks away from Election Day but have been fuzzy on a couple of their own key policy ideas.
Both candidates’ campaigns have said the comments about issues key to their campaigns amounted to misstatements, but the errors have already become fodder for attacks on each other.
Republicans, including Christie, chalk the mistakes up to being “human,” and Democrats echo the same sentiment, but some of the third-party candidates vying in the Nov. 7 election aren’t as open to letting their rivals off the hook so easily.
Democrat Phil Murphy this week held a news conference alongside Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and got the cost wrong for his proposal for tuition-free community college. The proposal was a central part of the news conference.
He initially said it would cost $400 million; then his campaign said that was only the higher-end estimate. Later the campaign said he misspoke and the cost would be about $200 million.
And last month, at an event billed as a news conference on property taxes, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno wrongly said the 2 percent cap on the local levies, which Christie enacted, expires at the end of the year. It does not.
Seth Kaper-Dale, the Green Party candidate competing against Guadagno and Murphy, was reluctant to cut Murphy and Guadagno much slack, saying he thinks the bar should be high for candidates for governor.
“If I was holding an event on a topic, I would have answers to basic questions or I would say I don’t know,” he said.
Voters shouldn’t judge candidates simply on the basis of such mistakes, Republicans and Democrats said.
“It tells you they’re human,” Christie said. “It’s part of the human existence.”
LeRoy Jones, chairman of the Democratic Party in Essex County, chalked up the mistakes to busy schedules and the fact that the campaigns are inundated with issues.
“I can sit here and be critical of Kim Guadagno and make amends for Phil Murphy, but we all have to be fair and open-minded,” he said.
Candidates are too much under the glare of the media microscope, said Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick. Mistakes should raise concerns only when someone “on a consistent basis” misstates policies, he said. Then it becomes disqualifying.
“In school, if you got 90 percent, you still got an A,” he said. “I don’t think a few mistakes should condemn either a Democrat or a Republican.”
Both campaigns made little of their own mistakes but were quick to criticize the other for misspeaking.
Guadagno’s campaign sent out an email including a photo of a box of calculators beneath a paper that read: “We hope these come in handy so you can calculate the true cost of all your promises.”
“Phil Murphy honestly can’t keep track of what his promises will cost taxpayers, and his math doesn’t add up,” said Guadagno spokesman Ricky Diaz.
Murphy’s campaign lashed out at Guadagno after her property tax faux pas, pointing out that it’s a limit on what police and fire officials can get in labor negotiations that expires.
“Let’s be clear; the 2 percent levy cap is permanent. The interest arbitration cap sunsets on Chris Christie’s and Kim Guadagno’s watch, so this is on them,” spokesman Derek Roseman said in a statement.
Experts say it’s possible for candidates to get overloaded and make a mistake but also for the public to hold candidates to high expectations.
“It’s common for over-briefed people to confuse one briefing note with another. Human memory is much more imperfect than we like to think,” said Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Peter Woolley. “It is perfectly reasonable to expect candidates to know the basic facts of central pieces of their campaign platform.”
Contact Catalini at https://www.twitter.com/mikecatalini