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Star-Ledger - "GOP Senate hopefuls battle over the economy and energy"

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Star-Ledger - "GOP Senate hopefuls battle over the economy and energy"

Asked during a debate last night how they would stabilize a falling U.S. dollar, the three Republicans seeking their party's nomination for U.S. Senate each responded by pointing to his signa ture issue.

Ramapo College professor Mur ray Sabrin blamed the Federal Reserve's power to create "speculative bubbles" by setting interest rates, an evil he has been inveighing against for three decades.

State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris) said America needs to achieve "energy independence," which he called "the cornerstone of my campaign."

And former Rep. Dick Zimmer, who billed himself as a "fiscal conservative," said the problem is that America has "been living on bor rowed money."

The three GOP candidates in the June 3 primary for the seat cur rently held by U.S. Sen. Frank Lau tenberg (D-N.J.) sought to define themselves to voters during the hour-long debate televised on New Jersey Network.

Pennacchio quickly went on the attack, criticizing Zimmer for finding "a loophole" that gives him a tax break on his farm in Hunterdon County while he worked as a lobby ist in Washington. "That's just not fair," Pennacchio said.

Zimmer's campaign has defended the tax break as legitimate under the state's farmland assessment program, but he ignored the criticism during the debate.

Zimmer defended his work as a lobbyist, saying he was "proud" to have lobbied on behalf of the families of American servicemen killed in Lebanon.

All three agreed, in broad terms, that Republicans have not won an election for U.S. Senate in New Jersey since 1972 because their party has lost its focus as a champion of limited government.

But there were also sharp disagreements.

Pennacchio and Zimmer said America must end its dependence on imported oil, but Sabrin said the best answer to rising oil prices is to cut government regulation and let demand increase supply. "Let the marketplace work," Sa brin said. "If we do that, the price will come down."

They disagreed on whether oil exploration and drilling should be allowed off the coast of New Jersey.

Zimmer said New Jersey's economy is so dependent on tourism that it would be "inappropriate to drill offshore."

Sabrin countered, "We need to eliminate all these barriers to drilling in the United States." He added that if oil is found off New Jersey, it could provide a new revenue source to close the state's budget gap.

Pennacchio said the question is "hypothetical" as "we don't know what the shelf off the coast of New Jersey offers." He said there are other energy sources to explore first, including nuclear power, in which New Jersey is "a national leader."

Zimmer criticized Sabrin's plan to bring all American combat troops home from Iraq by September 2010, warning that "a rigid timetable" for withdrawing from Iraq "could create a failed state that would become a haven for al Qaeda."

Sabrin replied, "Why should the Iraqi people allow al Qaeda to come into their country and take it over? That's not going to happen."

Both Zimmer and Pennacchio criticized the willingness of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama to negotiate with the president of Iran. "Obama's already committed himself to meeting with a despot," Pennacchio said. Zim mer added such a high-level meet ing would be "a propaganda coup for the leader of that country."

But Sabrin said, "There's no reason we should not negotiate with anyone in the world," noting that former Republican President Richard Nixon "negotiated with China."

"There's nothing wrong with negotiation," Sabrin said. "Death and destruction are worse than negotiation."

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