MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) — The state's two major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate tussled Thursday over whose policies would be better for the middle class in the first of three scheduled debates before their Nov. 6 election.
The incumbent, Democrat Robert Menendez, told of his rise from tenements to the U.S. Senate and said he's spent his political career fighting for the middle class. His Republican challenger, state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, said it's not working.
"I'm waiting to see some really good evidence of the middle class doing well under your watch, Bob," Kyrillos said, citing higher unemployment and a larger national deficit than when Menendez joined the Senate six years ago, before the start of the Great Recession.
Menendez argued that taxes for high-wage earners should be allowed to rise to help balance the budget and fund important government programs. Kyrillos said that any tax increases will lead to job cuts. Echoing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, he said tax rates should be reduced and deductions and credits eliminated and that will improve the economy.
Menendez was animated and Kyrillos was more deliberate in his first statewide debate as the two try to get traction in a race that's not getting a lot of attention.
As with all politics in New Jersey these days, the subtext surrounds Republican Gov. Chris Christie. He's done six fundraising events for Kyrillos, whom he's called perhaps his best friend in Trenton, and said this week that he'll appear at four campaign events with him between now and the election.
Despite the help from a popular if divisive governor, Kyrillos lags in polls. And New Jersey hasn't elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 40 years.
Menendez, meanwhile, has a chilly relationship with Christie. He was asked during the debate at Montclair State University if that's a problem.