For the first and it appears only time between now and the June 8 primary, two of the candidates for the Republican nomination for governor in New Jersey held a debate.
The two Republicans argued over qualifications, who was best able to beat Murphy, who best adheres to former President Donald Trump’s agenda and why the second debate, scheduled for Wednesday night, was canceled.
The debate didn’t go off because, according to intended host PBS’ claims, the Singh campaign did not re-confirm its participation in the event by the deadline set by the state Monday and has refused to comply with the COVID testing requirement that is part of NJ PBS production protocols
Singh deflected by claiming that PBS told his team he had to get vaccinated to participate, which Ciattarelli called a lie.
Both proposed changing how education was funded to help lower property taxes. Ciattarelli proposed a flatter and more equitable distribution of funds, while Singh said school choice would drive down funding per student.
There was a continued dedication to proving they adhered best to conservative values. Ciattarelli suggested he could help Republicans flip the Democrat-controlled houses of the Legislature and that he didn’t necessarily want to be governor unless he could get a majority and called for voters to “give Republicans a chance.” Singh argued he would best turn out the conservative base and appeal to minority communities and take advantage of what he believes will be lower vote totals for Gov. Murphy in November.
The debate then turned to former President Trump, whom Singh called “the greatest president of my lifetime.” He then referred to Ciattarelli as a “Liz Cheney/Mitt Romney Republican”
Ciattarelli said he “supported Trump’s policies” and that he was a New Jersey Republican above all. He then took a shot at Singh for praising a speech by Barack Obama on Egypt.
When asked who won the 2020 Presidential Election, Singh claimed President Trump had won re-election and called the process “rigged,” whereas Ciattarelli affirmed Joe Biden’s victory, citing the Supreme Court throwing out two of the Trump campaign’s lawsuits.
On gun control, there was largely agreement. Ciattarelli would ease conceal and carry restrictions, while Singh promised to return New Jersey to be a “Right to Carry” state.
On immigration, both promised to return to working with ICE and ending sanctuary city policies, while Singh promised to cut state funding to any municipality that helped the undocumented.
Both also said they would hold the Murphy administration accountable for nursing home deaths at the beginning of the pandemic, sighting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a model for how their administration would’ve dealt with COVID-19. Both cited “medical freedom” in opposing mandatory vaccines and mask mandates.
On the legalization of marijuana, Ciattarelli seemed open to putting prohibition back on the ballot if the legalization rollout was a failure. Singh said he’d use legalization to make marijuana regulated like alcohol and have proceeds pay for police pensions.
On abortion, Ciattarelli said he would allow exceptions in cases of rape and incest. Singh said he believed in zero exceptions, completely banning abortion in all cases.
Both cited Republican Thomas Kean, Sr. as their favorite past governor. When asked to compare themselves to any political figure in history, Ciattarelli went with Abraham Lincoln, while Singh called himself a combination of Rand Paul and former President Trump.
Ciattarelli doesn’t believe in an automatic increase in the minimum wage, while Singh signaled willingness to abolish it completely. The former assemblyman promised to abolish traffic circles, a New Jersey staple. Singh disagreed, saying he “liked circles.”
One of the final issues of consequence was whether or not the state should follow many Republican-led states by getting rid of the current $300-a-month unemployment insurance. Ciattarelli said he would get rid of it unless the Department of Labor could prove it was needed, whereas Singh said it should be tiered and all should be forced to show they’re looking for a job.
The debate ended at perhaps it’s most testy moment, when each candidate was allowed to ask the other a question. Ciattarelli asked Singh, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2021 and unsuccessfully ran for the same nomination in 2017, how he can win when he continuously loses, while also accusing him of paying zero property tax.
Singh called the entire question a lie, or “fake news on steroids” and verges on racism because of Singh’s overtures to the state’s Indian-American community. He argued that Ciattarelli will “say anything to get elected.”
“Unlike you, I don’t need the job,” snapped Ciattarelli.
Singh then asked Ciattarelli that given his home county had gone from Republican control at the county commissioner level to Democratic control and that he did not attend rallies for gun rights and medical freedom, how could he lead the Republican base against Gov. Murphy?
Ciattarelli again went on the offensive, citing his seven races won at various levels.
“One reason you’ve lost race after race is because you haven’t done anything for anybody else,” Ciattarelli said. “You’re all about you.”
After the debate, Singh declared “victory” over Ciattarelli in a tweet.
Ciattarelli released his own statement on Twitter.
Current Gov. Phil Murphy appeared un-phased by his competition in a campaign statement sent out afterwards.
“Beneath all the name-calling, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and Hirsh Singh agreed on one thing: they want to drag New Jersey backwards,” Murphy Campaign Manager Mollie Binotto said in a statement. “Their divisive rhetoric, politically motivated lies about the pandemic, and failure to denounce extremism disqualifies either candidate from being governor. New Jerseyans deserve far better than an anti-science, Trump-like sideshow.”
Hoboken Pastor Phil Rizzo and former Somerset County Commissioner Brian Levine are also contesting the June 8 primary, but did not qualify for the debate.