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Star-Ledger - "Debate promises to spark fireworks"

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Star-Ledger - "Debate promises to spark fireworks"

The heat gets cranked up a notch in the race for the 7th Congressional District seat this Tues day night with Hunterdon County Sen. Leonard Lance and Union County Assemblywoman Linda Stender slated to meet for the first debate in this hotly contested race.

With four-term GOP Rep. Mike Ferguson stepping down after nearly losing to Stender two years ago, Democrats are determined to finally wrest the seat from the GOP. Meanwhile, Republicans are hoping the socially moderate Lance will be able to woo back swing voters who rejected Ferguson the last time around and keep the district on the red list.

The debate, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey's Jewish Community Relations Council, will be held at the JCC of Central New Jersey, 1319 Martine Ave., Scotch Plains, at 7:15 p.m.

In a district that bobs and weaves from the Elizabeth River in the east to the Delaware River on the west, it has always been a chal lenge for candidates to get their message to voters, a problem that incumbents have always capitalized on by utilizing the powerful mailing privileges accorded members of Congress.

While Lance was forced to de plete most of his campaign war chest in the crowded GOP primary battle and got out one mailing over the summer, the mailbox barrage has not stopped from the Stender forces.

With reinforcements coming from state and congressional Democrats, at least 14 mailings have gone out, of which nearly two- thirds were blistering attacks on Lance.

But whether through mailings, press releases or television commercials, both sides appear to be on a mission -- for the Democrats, it's tying Lance to the Bush administration, while for the Republicans, it's binding Stender to the Democrats' rule in Trenton.

Lance, the third generation of his family to represent Hunterdon County in the Legislature, said he was concentrating on the eastern end of the district where he is not as well known.

As he goes door-to-door, he stresses his record of fiscal responsibility, combined with his moderate positions on social issues and his strong record as an environmentalist.

"I believe in bipartisan cooperation -- I have a record of that in Trenton," Lance said. "I vote my conscience. I simply don't vote the party line."

Lance continues to stress his credentials for having challenged both GOP governor Christie Whit man and former Democratic governor James E. McGreevey's fiscal machinations.

"That is one of the reasons I am running, that we become fiscally responsible," he said.

Noting their differences over Iraq, Lance said he thought the United States would be able to get out of Iraq in a timely fashion be cause of the surge, which he supported.

"We desperately need moderate Republicans in Washington," Lance said.

Stender counters that the last thing Washington needs is more Republicans.

"After eight years of failed Bush policies, we need a new direction," she said.

"My opponent has never spoken out against the war or bringing our troops home, or that the oil indus try is making record profits while we're paying more at the pump," she said.

"What people want to know is, who is going to deliver to the families of the 7th District and restore access to the American dream, which is what I think is at stake in this election."

Stender contends that it was due in large measure to decisions made during the Whitman administration and its "fairy tale" economic policy, that the state now faces very serious challenges.

"We were left with a nightmare and that's what we're dealing with," she said.

"We have an economy that's in shambles because of the kind of economics that George Bush put in place and that's what we can continue to expect from a Republican majority and Republican leadership."

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