Kim v. Murphy: Debate Takeaways and Themes

Sunday night saw First Lady Tammy Murphy and Congressman Andy Kim, both running for the US Senate seat to displace embattled Senator Bob Menendez, participate in an online debate hosted by Rider University’s Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics, the NJ Globe, and ON New Jersey.

Notably absent from the debate was Senator Menendez himself, who reportedly did not respond to an invitation. Dr. Patricia Campos-Medina and Larry Hamm, two other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, were not invited apparently due to not meeting the polling requirements of the debate.

The debate overall went smoothly, with only one minor technical problem preventing the candidates from hearing a question on immigration. Though barbs were occasionally exchanged between the candidates themselves, the panel was civil and respectful.

Much of the substance of the debate has been covered by Insider NJ’s Fred Snowflack here.

Tammy Murphy.


A few points relating to the debate itself that readers may take with them are as follows.

Qualifications – in justifying their qualifications, Murphy tried to characterize herself as a mover and shaker of policy, although she has never held a public office before. As a figure “in the room” with her husband, Governor Phil Murphy, she linked the governor’s accomplishments, travels, and positions with her own, without directly saying as much. Congressman Kim used his voting record in the House to point to his past achievements and positions, both from his time working for the executive branch and in the legislature itself.

“America is under attack right now by Donald Trump, by the MAGA Republicans in Congress that I’ve been fighting against for the last five years and we have to stop them,” Kim said. He pointed out that he won a district Trump carried twice. “It’s about restoring integrity, it’s about trust, it’s about public service. But that is at risk when we have a Senator who is indicted on corruption. We’re seeing the same broken politics that protected the Senator for so many years, now trying to put its thumb on the scale of our elections, including in the Senate race.”

Murphy described herself as a “deeply concerned” mother. “As a mother of four, I see the world through their eyes. Our children are losing faith in us, rightfully so. Little girls are growing up with less rights than I had. Fire drills have been replaced by active shooter drills and if we don’t do something right now about climate change, parts of New Jersey will be completely underwater in 20 years. I won’t stand by watching as the world gets worse for our kids. I’ve spent the last seven years traveling our state listening to families in all 21 counties.” Murphy added, “We need more ticked off moms in Washington and more Jersey grit to get things done.”

Presentation – there was a stark difference between the candidates as far as their appearance. Both maintained calm demeanors and spoke in level, respectful tones, but Andy Kim demonstrated a relaxed deportment throughout while Murphy seemed far more rigid and, at times, tense. While nobody enjoys being criticized, especially in public, during their exchanges the First Lady’s eyes told the story of her irritation while Kim seemed to endure his assaults with a cold Stoicism that could not help but betray, at most, annoyance. When engaged in less aggressive discussions, the First Lady appeared alert and focused and Kim very much at ease. Perhaps to the relief of audiences who have become accustomed to political discourse descending into shouting matches, ignoring time constraints, or hyperbolic name-calling, both candidates stuck to the rules. So much so was this the case, in fact, that moderator Jones remarked at the smooth running of the debate: that in and of itself is a sign of the state of affairs, that it should even be mentioned.

Family – both candidates are parents and frequently invoked parenthood and their own children’s futures during the debate as motivators for their desire to run for office. Kim positioned himself as an experienced Congressman who has proven he can win elections in a Trump-friendly district, he drew off of his own record extensively. Murphy had to walk the line of defining herself as her own woman within the public sphere, while not having had an elected office, and neither appearing to ride the coattails of her husband, nor discredit the governor through any kind of criticism of the administration’s policies. Hers was a tight-rope walk at times, and occasionally her best tactic was to dodge questions entirely while Kim, in general, stayed more focused on the questions as delivered, free from the personal ties she has with the political record of her husband. This was most apparent during the discussion on fare hikes in the state, where Kim boldly called the administration’s decision to raise rates wrong, while Murphy side-stepped and said she would fight for more federal funds if she gained the senate seat.

Attacks – As one might expect, zings and attacks between the candidates took place, but none were of a particularly acidic nature. Murphy criticized Kim for not supporting a Medicare For All form of universal healthcare, to which Kim said he is open to multiple options which would allow for a universal healthcare apparatus. Murphy also attacked Kim, accusing him of not supporting student loan forgiveness. Kim, in turn, replied that he wanted a more comprehensive, and above all, legislative, solution, rather than an executive order, so that a future president couldn’t overturn it with a flick of a pen. Kim attacked Murphy for not answering questions, notably on fare hikes.

Who Is ‘Democrat’ Enough? – Kim said that he was not convinced that the First Lady had the strong Democratic credibility required when for most of her life she was a Republican and made donations to Republican campaigns. Murphy responded saying that she had spent the last decade building up the State Democratic Party in New Jersey. She returned to her theme of maternal health and women’s rights, saying she had always supported these issues, while Kim was unconvinced.

While discussing whether age should be a factor in elections, Murphy took the opportunity to fire a crack at Kim. “Donald Trump is an existential threat to our country, and you know what, while I’m talking about Donald Trump, I’m reminded, by the way, that my opponent actually was one of eight Democrats who supported Donald Trump, not only in enabling him to build or to start building his border wall, but also he supported him in not protecting children and sending children to military bases to be in cages. So, there’s quite a few things that we have to think about here and Donald Trump is a real problem, and people who work with Donald Trump are also a problem.”

Defending himself, Kim said, “I stood up against Donald Trump, I ran for Congress to stand up to him, I voted in the House of Representatives to impeach him twice, I voted numerous times to stop a border wall. I just wanted to clarify that. But let me get to the actual question, which wasn’t answered, frankly, by my opponent, which is, yes, people want a change. People are hungry right now for a new generation of leadership to step up and I’ve been hearing that all over New Jersey, I hear it all over the country.”

The CD-3 Congressman took aim at Murphy’s history, being a registered Republican and donor to Republican candidates in the past, and questioned her commitment to Democratic Party values. To these charges, she said, “It is irrelevant. I would tell you, for me, I grew up in a small business household, my parents, my family were moderate conservatives. So I grew up in a kind of an apolitical household, but I was always focused on gun safety, on reproductive freedoms, on education, on the environment, nothing has changed. I have continued over time to try and find people who I could support who actually prioritize those topics as well. And with respect to the Republican party, the Republican Party left me. There was no road left. But I would tell you that I will stand really strongly for all of these issues.”

“The current Republican Party left you,” Kim said, “but I have to be honest with you, that doesn’t sit well with me when I’m trying to think about what your positions are. So, I guess my question to you is, if the current Republican Party has left you, what form of the past Republican party are you still okay with? Is it George W. Bush, is it George H.W. Bush?”

Murphy tried to flip the card on Kim, saying, “My opponent did actually flaunt the fact that he worked for the Bush administration, and he did work for a very anti-choice Republican senator when he was running initially.”

Kim addressed the remark later in the debate, saying, “I worked under presidents of both parties. I was a federal government employee. That’s what public service is. It’s about serving the country, not the president. I don’t accuse our military or our public servants of being partisan when we are working nonpartisan jobs.”

The Party Line & Voter Choice – few issues are as contentious in the electoral world of New Jersey politics as “the line” whereby party bosses can award a tangible advantage to their chosen candidate through their placement on the ballots.

Kim, unsurprisingly, took the position that it was not a fair system, given the support Tammy Murphy has swept up from the party chairmen across the state. Kim said he wanted to make sure, “every citizen has the right to be able to participate and if they decide to run for office, then that is something that they can take on, and it’s not just for the well off and the well connected to be able to do that. Right now, we don’t see a fair process when it comes to this Senate race, and that’s something that I see, and I know a lot of people across New Jersey see. I think that New Jersey should move in the direction of every other state in America, which is an office block ballot.”

Murphy, also unsurprisingly, was not about to criticize the system that was working to her benefit. Instead, she took the position of working within the present system as it stands. “We are all running in the same system right now. I’ve seen my opponents in Hunterdon County, I’ve seen them in Mercer County, I’ve seen them in Monmouth County, and we all are going to continue working within the system that we have. For me, this is just one piece of the puzzle.” Murphy then said she would work for every vote and touted her endorsements. “I’ve been endorsed by over 100 elected representatives. I’ve been endorsed by six of the nine members of the New Jersey Democratic Congressional delegation, I have received endorsements from our brothers and sisters in labor, I’ve received endorsements from the faith community.”

Neither candidate made mention of the fact that neither Campos-Medina nor Hamm were represented in the debate, as far as giving voters choices was concerned.

With Kim’s position clear, the First Lady was asked directly if she would prefer a different system if it was within her ability to change it. She did not answer, and reiterated her previous statement that everyone was working within the system in place.

Overall – Murphy had complained on the campaign trail about sexism being a factor in the election, despite having the overwhelming support of the Democratic State Party machinery, but the topic of sexism itself never arose during the debate. Instead, the arguments were less about policy, which more or less overlapped, but rather orbited around experience and credibility.

The First Lady does not have the advantage of an actual legislative record to stand on and had to carefully cut her path through questions that did not undermine her credibility or her husband’s. In fact, the governor was seldom mentioned. Without a political resume of her own, she championed herself in an almost populist or Sarah Palinesque fashion: a “ticked off mom” trying to bring change that only someone with her perspective and values could.

Kim presented himself as an anti-corruption candidate with a strong resume of working in Washington DC in the fields of national security and later as a legislator who carried a red district. He contrasted himself against both Senator Menendez, as a corrupt official by his own alleged misdeeds, and against the First Lady as a product of a system that enabled and supported Menendez in the first place. Kim pointed to his record on the issues discussed and characterized himself as a genuine Democrat while trying to cast ambiguity on Murphy.

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7 responses to “Kim v. Murphy: Debate Takeaways and Themes”

  1. While I am definitely NOT a fan of either candidates progressive positions, I do not see that Tammy Murphy has any qualifications whatsoever to be a United States Senator. Being in the room with her Governor husband doesn’t cut it.

  2. I agree. If she were not married to the Gov. she’d have no chance whatsoever.
    Also, she may be a great mom, but she has NEVER been elected to public office so no experience, and she doesn’t know when to use fewer instead of less regarding rights! Grammar IS important Mrs. Murphy!

  3. Given that New Jersey promotes voter fraud through their Dominion and Smartmatic Computer Voting Systems, promotes ballot stuffing at local ballot boxes, brings out fraudulent, unsigned, undated ballots by the thousands when the Democrat candidate is down by thousands of votes, what could possibly go wrong for Andy Kim and the Republican opposition candidate?????


  4. Of course, 64+ claims thrown out of various courts and two very prominent lawyers sanctioned or disbarred, and criminally or civil convicted for making unsubstantiated disparaging claims about said “fraud”in no way gives you pause…. Gotta love it!

  5. We have been to this rodeo before, when Hilary Clinton, as theFirst Lady of America was elected to a senate seat from New York. This must stop!!! Too many women are riding on the coattails of their fathers and husbands. Tammy, get some experience of your own and stop using your “mother status” and husbands works to build your career in NJ politics. You have no more qualifications than any other mother in NJ. You might have less, considering your financial status. You haven’t had to make hard decisions that many mothers with less financial cache have while rearing children. You bring nothing to the table but your name, or should I say husband’s name. No more nepotism, no more Murphys!!!

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