TRENTON, N.J. — Down in the polls and lacking the cash and high-profile endorsements of her Democratic rival in New Jersey’s contest to succeed Gov. Chris Christie, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is going on the offensive, demanding more debates, calling her opponent names and casting his platform as costlier than his promises suggested.
Democrat Phil Murphy has rebutted the attacks, and it’s unclear if Guadagno’s call on Wednesday for two additional debates and her calling him a “coward” for an answer about disgraced movie executive Harvey Weinstein will sway voters.
She also held a news conference this week to criticize Murphy over support for toll increases, though he has not actually called for them, and to call him out on single-payer health care, which he also has not promised.
The race has been Murphy’s to lose, and Guadagno has just four weeks to try to alter its trajectory after serving two terms with Christie, who has the approval of only about one-fifth of voters.
Perhaps Guadagno’s strongest moment in a debate Tuesday in Newark came when she chided Murphy for mentioning Christie repeatedly.
He’s not on the ballot, she said. “I am.”
Murphy leads Guadagno by double digits in polls and has gotten more than $6.3 million in public financing to Guadagno’s roughly $1.8 million. He also is hosting a parade of high-ranking Democratic officials and former officeholders in New Jersey, which has nearly 800,000 more Democrats than Republicans.
On Wednesday, Democratic former Secretary of State John Kerry campaigned alongside Murphy, a former ambassador to Germany, in Clifton. Former President Barack Obama and ex-Vice President Joe Biden also plan to help Murphy in New Jersey.
Murphy has not been entirely defensive either. This week he unveiled a statewide, 30-second ad that links Guadagno to the unpopular Christie. And during Tuesday’s hourlong debate, he took chances to link his rival to the governor.
“If I had your track record and Gov. Christie’s too, I’d make stuff up,” he said after Guadagno raised single-payer health care. Murphy has backed the idea of universal coverage, but has not called for it as part of his platform.
Guadagno is pulling Murphy into debates, but he is also parrying.
She managed to draw Murphy into a discussion of Weinstein, the 65-year-old movie executive and Democratic donor against whom harassment and sexual assault allegations emerged this week.
Murphy said he hasn’t taken a “dime” from Weinstein and canceled a campaign event with him after the allegations surfaced in the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine. Weinstein has donated heavily to Democrats, including money to the Democratic National Committee during the time Murphy was its finance chairman. There’s nothing connecting Murphy to that money, however, and he called on Democrats to hand over donations from Weinstein to charitable groups.
Murphy shot back at Guadagno’s call for additional debates saying through campaign manager Brendan Gill that her request was a “gimmick” and that she had skipped forums where both were invited but only Murphy showed up.
Her calls earlier this week to oppose toll hikes, which she suggested Murphy would raise, were rejected by Murphy’s campaign as a misinterpretation of his reaction to a think tank report that included raising fares to finance infrastructure.
The campaign says Murphy “welcomes” the report, but he hasn’t promised to hike rates.
Election Day is Nov. 7.
The next and final debate is Oct. 18, with the lieutenant governor candidates going head to head Monday.
Contact Catalini at https://www.twitter.com/mikecatalini
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