NEWARK, N.J. — The first debate between two top party candidates to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie featured name-calling, comparisons to President Donald Trump and sharp differences on policies regarding taxes, health care, marijuana legalization and sanctuary cities.
The hour-long debate at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark was the first of two and was broadcast on New York and Philadelphia ABC stations. It came as Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno trails Democrat Phil Murphy ahead of the Nov. 7 election in polls by double digits and in fundraising.
The other debate is set for Oct. 18. The candidates for lieutenant governor debate on Monday.
A closer look at the key exchanges:
THE WEINSTEIN FACTOR
Harvey Weinstein, the movie producer and Democratic fundraiser who has been accused of sexual assault in reports detailed by The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine, was at the center of part of the debate when Murphy was asked whether he’d taken contributions from him.
“I didn’t ask for and I didn’t get one dime from this guy,” said Murphy, a wealthy former Goldman Sachs executive.
Guadagno, whose campaign earlier on Tuesday accused Murphy of partnering with Weinstein, took credit for eliciting a response from Murphy.
“I want to call Phil Murphy a coward,” she said, saying her campaign highlighted tens of thousands of dollars that Weinstein donated while Murphy served as finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Murphy’s response was short and delivered with a smile.
“I literally have no idea what she’s talking about,” he said.
Weinstein has apologized for causing “a lot of pain” with “the way I’ve behaved.”
Murphy and Guadagno split sharply over the Obama administration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which Trump recently ended while giving Congress six months to come up with a replacement.
Guadagno was asked how she would address those affected by Trump’s action on DACA, a program that shielded from deportation nearly 800,000 young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. She said she would work with Congress to try to come up with a deal. Pressed for details, she said “I would follow the law” and offered to support law enforcement but didn’t provide further details.
Murphy suggested he would declare New Jersey a sanctuary state, a variably defined term that often includes the failure of local or state officials to help federal authorities detain and deport immigrants without proper authorization to be in the country.
New Jersey has an estimated 22,000 recipients of DACA, often referred to as Dreamers, a reference to a law that has not been enacted.
“Dreamers — we’ve got 22,000 of them — are every bit as American as my four kids,” Murphy said. “If need be we will be a sanctuary, not just city, but state.”
TRUMP AND CHRISTIE
Murphy tried to tie Guadagno to Trump and Christie, unpopular Republicans in the Democrat-leaning state.
Murphy compared Guadagno to Trump, whose presidential campaign included heavy criticism of immigrants in the country illegally, and Christie, under whom Guadagno served for two terms.
After Murphy suggested he would make New Jersey a sanctuary state, Guadagno raised a case brought by Mercer County prosecutors against a man from Guatemala who they say is illegally in the country and facing charges of sexual assault involving a 6-year-old. She asked whether Murphy would have his back.
Murphy responded by saying that the case shouldn’t be politicized.
“What you’re doing is what Donald Trump and Chris Christie are doing,” he said. “You cast a pall over entire communities of people.”
Guadagno, though, pushed back at Murphy’s roughly half-dozen comparisons to Christie.
“Chris Christie is not on the ballot,” she said. “I am.”
Murphy said he backed legalized marijuana, a long-held position. Guadagno said the state shouldn’t legalize it just to earn extra revenue.
When asked about the Affordable Care Act, Guadagno attacked Murphy over single-payer health care, which he said he favors but has not promised.
Murphy responded that Guadagno was making “stuff up.”
The biggest issue for voters, polls have shown, is property taxes. They factored heavily at the start of the debate, with Guadagno hammering Murphy over failing to state whether he’d support renewing an expiring 2 percent cap on the salaries some police and fire officials can win in labor disputes.
Murphy responded that his plan to address the nation’s highest property taxes is to increase states aid to schools, which are financed by property taxes.