If U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) is in a Cuchulain-like war with what Yeats called “the invulnerable tide,” Democratic challenger Tom Malinowski trusts a (climate change-aided) blue wave will finally wash over the incumbent on Nov. 6th. Tonight, in one of the most-watched contests of the cycle, the two Central Jerseyans met for their third debate, this time at NJTV’s Agnes Varis Studio in Newark, where they found themselves entangled over leadership in their respective parties, the outrages of President Donald J, Trump, and multiple divisive issues impacting the battleground district, with Lance repeatedly trying to make the case that Malinowski would move the district too far to the left, and Malinowski arguing that Lance isn’t strong, consistent or effective enough to lead in critical times.
In that one exchange when NJTV moderator Briana Vannozzi urged each to ask a question of the other, Lance tried to hit his opponent – a former assistant secretary of state – on national security. Malinowski backed the Iran Nuclear Agreement, while the congressman opposed it. Could the challenger guarantee that none of the funding that was part of the deal went for terrorism against the United States?
It’s a reiterated theme from Lance’s mail campaign.
Former Human Rights Director Malinowski said he has worked to protect national security. Lance knows that, he added. The imperfect Iran Nuclear deal set back that country’s nuclear program over ten years, but did not do enough to counter Iran’s support for terrorism, the Democrat acknowledged.
When it was Malinowski’s turn to question Lance, the challenger took issue with the Republican’s membership in the so-called problem solvers’ caucus. “Your party has a 23-seat majority in the House. The problem solvers caucus has 24 members. You have the power right now.”
Why couldn’t he stop those measures damaging to the 7th District, (among them the elimination of state and local property tax deductions)?
“The problem solvers caucus will be more effective [in the new Congress] because whoever controls congress will do with a narrower margin,” said Lance.
Malinowski later criticized Lance for lacking more tone in his stances, including his supposed acknowledgement of climate change, he said.
What has he actually done policy-wise to reflect his belief that climate change exists?
“Tax credits,” Lance said.
“It’s quite pathetic, actually,” Malinowski said.
Repeatedly, the challenger criticized Lance for not being stronger on certain issues, including gun control.
“I was endorsed by Gabby Giffords,” the congressman shot back.
Lance tried to use a Gateway Chamber of Commerce comment Malinowski made in which he called Republicans the white nationalist party, to brand his opponent as an uncivil Democratic Party extremist.
“I was very clear I would never attribute those comments to you or Republicans in the district,” the challenger said. “But to say there’s no debate – the president has praised white nationalists in Charlottesville. The president is a role model. It’s not enough to say you disapprove. The congress has a constitutional obligation to act.
“We have a problem,” Malinowski added. “We are not going to solve that problem by saying, ‘oh, I wish he wouldn’t tweet so much.'”
It was a running Malinowski theme. Lance hasn’t been muscular enough in opposing a menacing chief executive.
Prodded by Vannozzi, the congressman gave Trump a “B” grade.
Lance in turn repeatedly tried to link Malinowski to House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. For his part, Malinowski scorned what he said was Lance’s ineffectual leadership within a Republican Party that stands to install a speaker to the right of retiring U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. The Democrat also criticized Lance for statements he made about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh confirmation process.
“He dismissed her allegations; that’s precisely the thing that makes it so hard for survivors to come forward,” Malinowski said.
“I believe in due process of law,” Lance said. “I said Dr. Ford should be allowed to testify and she should be treated with dignity and respect and that is what happened.”
Malinowski upbraided Lance for voting 60 times to gut the Affordable Care Act – one of the biggest themes in the challenger’s mail.
“You used to proudly run on that record when you were not afraid of losing to a Democrat,” he said.
“The new congress will be controlled narrowly by Republicans or Democrats,” Lance said. “The problem solvers’ caucus – I think our views will prevail.”
Throughout, Lance invoked Pelosi, who came to New Jersey in support of Malinowski.
“Mr. Malinowski supports Nancy Pelosi for speaker,” Lance said.
“The vote for speaker is important,” Malinowski shot back. “I will only vote for a speaker who will restore our property tax deductions, There is not a single Republican speaker who will help us with those issues.”
“Other Democrats have opposed Pelosi,” said Lance, citing the state’s other battleground Democratic candidates.
“Malinowski can’t say the same thing,” the Republican added.
Lance noted his support for Republican Bob Hugin over U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in the senate contest. He also mentioned how Malinowski “parachuted into the district to run for congress.”
Malinowski kept hammering the Republican for failing to adequately stand up to his party or to the president.
“Congressman Lance failed to stop passage of the tax bill [that contained the state and local property tax deductions elimination],” said the Democrat, who has significantly outraised Lance in this contest.
Polling shows the typically Republican 7th District a real race, with Trump’s presence in the White House (and in voters’ Bedminster backyard where the President routinely gets away to his golf course) potentially serving to mobilize the district’s Democrats, women and moderate voters to place Malinowski – less three weeks until decision day – within striking distance of turning out his Republican opponent.