NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Republican Rep. Leonard Lance touted his record as bipartisan and jabbed his Democratic challenger as a “carpetbagger” and potential Nancy Pelosi supporter, while Tom Malinowski called the five-term incumbent is ineffective and a failed check on President Donald Trump in an hourlong and at-times testy debate Wednesday.
Lance and Malinowski clashed on NJTV in a debate televised statewide as they compete in the tightly contested and closely watched 7th District, which experts say could flip from Democratic to Republican control in the Nov. 6 election.
Democrats need to convert 23 seats to take control, and they’ve identified Lance’s seat as among the most vulnerable.
Lance is seeking his sixth term. Malinowski moved back to the state where he was raised to challenge Lance after a career in Washington that included a stint as President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of state for human rights.
In perhaps one of his sharpest attacks against Malinowski, the typically reserved Lance suggested his challenger only moved to New Jersey to seek office and said he was a “complete and total carpetbagger.” Malinowski said later that the remark “kind of” gets to him since he graduated high school in the district before moving away.
But Lance repeatedly raised Pelosi, the Democratic leader who is unpopular with Republican voters. He pointed out that other Democratic House candidates in New Jersey have said they won’t support her.
“All the other Democrats have said they would not support Nancy Pelosi for speaker. Mr. Malinowski has refused to do that.”
Malinowski said he’ll vote for a speaker who would help New Jersey, but he didn’t rule out supporting Pelosi.
“Sometimes if feels like there’s a Republican campaign school that teaches candidates that the answer to every question should be noun, verb Nancy Pelosi,” he said.
Malinowski jabbed Lance over not doing enough to stop the GOP tax bill that capped state and local deductions at $10,000, a big issue in the district’s more affluent suburbs. Lance voted against the bill but couldn’t stop it from being enacted.
“I don’t see a lot of fight in you,” Malinowski said.
Lance responded by pointing to disaster aid for Puerto Rico that he sponsored as well as money to address the opioid crisis.
The candidates clashed on issues as well.
Malinowski said he favors offering a public option for health care but stopped short of backing Medicare for all. Lance said he opposes both and instead wants to give residents a chance to purchase insurance across state lines.
Lance mentioned throughout that he’s a member of a bipartisan problem-solvers caucus and praised Republican Senate candidate Bob Hugin, who’s competing against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez.
Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.