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Star-Ledger - "GOP Senate Rivals Differ on Iraq, Abortion In Debate"

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Location: Madison, NJ

Ramapo College professor Mur ray Sabrin has pledged to get U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by September 2010, a promise his two rivals for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate reject.

Sabrin and state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris) described themselves as "pro-life," while former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer (R- 12th Dist.) said he favors abortion rights, subject to "reasonable restrictions."

Those were among the differences that emerged last night as the contenders for the Republican nomination met in their first three- way debate at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison. Sabrin and Pennacchio had debated each other last month, before Zimmer entered the race.

On Iraq, Sabrin said the United States has paid a terrible price in money and lives: 4,000 soldiers dead, 100,000 wounded and a price tag that in a few more years will reach $3 trillion.

"The Iraqi people have to take care of their own security just like every other country in the world," Sabrin said.

Zimmer said, "We need to find a way to bring our combat troops home from Iraq in a way that does not destabilize the region. We know we cannot have an arbitrary timetable."

Pennacchio said, "Iraq has to step up," but said the United States cannot pull out precipitously and candidates should not make such promises.

On issues such as abortion and medical marijuana, the candidates showed a three-way race can produce three nuanced opinions.

All three said they opposed par tial-birth abortions. Zimmer said he believes "in a woman's right to choose and I believe it's protected by the Constitution." He said he fa vors "reasonable restrictions" such as parental notification and a ban on partial-birth abortion.

Sabrin said he is "pro-life" but opposes any national strategy, say ing "the abortion issue should be handed back to the states. ... Being pro-life does not mean you want one size fits all for the coun try. I believe that would be a mistake."

Pennacchio said he is "pro-life" and supports a federal constitutional amendment "that recognizes life begins at conception."

On medical marijuana, Pennacchio opposed it, saying, "I've seen too many families heartbroken by drugs." Sabrin supported it, saying "the federal government should not be telling doctors how to treat their patients." Zimmer said he doesn't see the benefit of medical marijuana, but the decision "should be governed by science" and made by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The candidates all talked of reducing New Jersey's tax burden and securing the nation's borders.

"Our combined tax burden in the state is the third-highest in the country," said Zimmer. "I believe you should keep your own money in your wallet not send it to Washington to be diverted to other states for pork-barrel projects."

Sabrin said the nation needs to return to free enterprise and "limited government." He noted that tomorrow is "tax freedom day" in New Jersey -- when residents would finally stop paying taxes if their full paychecks went to Uncle Sam before they kept anything.

"If done over the next 40 to 60 years" tax freedom day will be Aug. 23, he said. "Young people will work eight months to pay taxes," said Sabrin. "We're passing on a monstrosity of debt."

Pennacchio said the race "is about the future."

"We've gotten really good at telling you how bad the other person is," he said, promising to run on the issues. His are "low taxes, less government, peace and secu rity through strength."

The debate was moderated by Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mul shine.

Democrats also have a three- way primary pitting incumbent U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg against Rep. Rob Andrews from South Jersey's 1st District and Morristown Mayor Donald Cresi tello. They have yet to debate.

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