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Impromptu Debate in New Jersey

Republican Senate candidate Forrester confronts Democrat Lautenberg on the campaign trail, prompting an exchange.

October 20, 2002|From Associated Press

METUCHEN, N.J. — Dragging two wooden podiums into an intersection at a street fair Saturday, Republican Senate candidate Douglas R. Forrester challenged Democratic rival Frank R. Lautenberg to make good on his "any place, any time" debate pledge.

Lautenberg, a three-term former senator, complied in a 10-minute exchange during which Forrester criticized his opponent's voting record and the Democrat focused on issues such as abortion rights and gun control.

The impromptu debate ended when the candidates' supporters started shouting at each other.

It was the second time since Lautenberg replaced beleaguered Sen. Robert Torricelli in the race early this month that Forrester, who trails slightly in polls, paid him a surprise visit on the campaign trail to challenge him to debate.

Forrester said Saturday that approaching Lautenberg at public events is the only way to bring campaign issues to the public eye.

"This is the most shameless attempt to hijack an election in New Jersey's history," Forrester said.

Forrester has proposed more than 20 debates around the state, but Lautenberg, who retired two years ago, has agreed to just one televised joint appearance, three days before the Nov. 5 election. Tom Shea, Lautenberg's campaign manager, said the Democrat will agree to at least one other televised debate.

On Saturday, Forrester directed Lautenberg to the podium and peppered him with questions about his voting record. Forrester has criticized Lautenberg's 1991 vote against authorizing the Persian Gulf War.

Lautenberg discussed issues traditionally kind to New Jersey Democrats and raised the topic of a newspaper column Forrester wrote in 1990 that opposed drunk-driving checkpoints.

The New Jersey Supreme Court allowed Democrats to replace Torricelli with Lautenberg after a state deadline for switching candidates.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the state judges' ruling.

Torricelli pulled out of the race after a rebuke by Senate colleagues over allegations of unethical conduct.

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