Jay Webber is the only Republican seeking the party’s congressional nomination in the 11th District who has held elected office. And he wants to make sure people don’t forget that.
“You know me, I’ve been there with you for a long time,” Webber said at a debate Thursday night at the Randolph Diner in Morris County that was sponsored by the county’s Young Republicans.
Webber was elected to the state Assembly in 2007.
And because of that experience, Webber said he’s well prepared to go toe-to-toe with Democrats on a number of issues, including support for the Second Amendment.
Candidate Antony Ghee quickly disagreed, at least about guns. Noting that he was born in Trenton, a city that’s been plagued by crime, Ghee said he knows all about gun violence and how to debate the matter.
That was the first spark, albeit a minor one, in the debate among five candidates.
Besides Webber and Ghee, a lawyer and major in the Army Reserves, the candidates are businessman Peter DeNeufville, onetime concert promoter Pat Allocco and lawyer Martin Hewitt.
While Hewitt called himself a “liberal Republican” in the mold of Nelson Rockefeller
and Jacob Javits (how’s that for an ancient reference in a forum sponsored by young Republicans?), there was not widespread disagreement on many issues.
All seemed to agree that border security was a priority, but that young people brought to the United States as children (the so-called Dreamers) should be protected.
All candidates pledged support for the Second Amendment, but acknowledged some restrictions on semi-automatic weapons are needed, although the states are in the best position to do that.
Ghee said many crimes are committed by those carrying “illegal weapons,” not the average gun owner.
Webber spoke of a “false narrative,” that suggests gun ownership and safety are incompatible.
The candidates said the Affordable Care Act, or if you prefer, Obamacare, should be abolished, something Republicans in Congress have been unable to do. At the same time, they acknowledged the difficulty of dealing with a complex health care system.
A question about Donald Trump produced varying responses.
Webber said he knows how to deal with strong personalities; after all he dealt with Governor Christie. He views Trump the same way, he said.
DeNeufville said he likes the fact Trump is strong and “very focused” on national security.
Ghee said that in his Army career, he occasionally has had to speak candidly to “two-star generals.”
And if President Trump disappoints him, “I’ll be the first person to speak up.”
Allocca complimented Trump for winning the presidency as an outsider, which is something he’s trying to do in his congressional campaign.
Allocca has said he would use his Internet site to sample public opinion and vote the way the people want. None of his opponents commented on this offbeat idea.
When Ghee entered the race, he declined to disclose his votes for president in the last three elections. Since Ghee is a recently-registered Republican, the Webber camp alleged that Ghee must have voted Democratic, which in the last three elections would have been for Obama, Obama and Clinton.
Ghee says Webber is wrong, but has not disclosed his votes.
Webber brought the matter up again Thursday night during a discussion about Syria. Webber noted that then-President Obama had talked about a “red line” regarding the regime’s use of chemical weapons, but took no action when that line was crossed.
“Who would want to vote for a president like that?” Webber asked, quickly adding, “Sorry Tony.”
This was a rather clumsy way to get around to the topic, but some people in the audience of about 200 people got it.
One of whom was Ghee. He quickly accused the assemblyman of spreading “fake news.”
Webber, whose campaign style always has had a sharp edge, also took a swipe at DeNeufville.
When abortion and Planned Parenthood came up, DeNeufville said he supports the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal money to pay for abortions. The ban notwithstanding, many conservatives want to stop funding Planned Parenthood altogether. Webber is one of them.
After DeNeufville made his comment, Webber said, “Peter has been a supporter of Planned Parenthood for a long time.”
Afterwards, DeNeufville said family members of his have financially supported Planned Parenthood, but that he has not. Webber countered that the distinction is meaningless.
While the Republicans were skirmishing in Morris County, Mikie Sherrill, the perceived Democratic congressional nominee, was at a Hudson County event that raised a reported $150,000 for her and the Democratic campaign in District 11.
Republicans are getting a very late start here. Recall that Rodney Frelinghuysen didn’t announce his retirement until early this year. So campaign cash is going to be a big deal for whichever candidate wins the June primary and represents the GOP this fall.
Ghee probably had that in mind when near the end of the debate, he sized up the challenge of going against a well-funded Democrat and asked, “What are we going to do about it?”
A pertinent question to be sure.