LIVINGSTON – Last night’s Republican debate was a bit emptier than the Democratic debate that preceded it, both in terms of audience size and candidate attendance.
Only Patrick Allocco and Martin Hewitt, who fill out the bottom of the race in terms of fundraising, appeared at the debate at the Livingston Community Center, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters.
“I think they each had their different reasons for not making it, and I know that, specifically, Tony had an event that he was going to,” Allocco said, referring to candidate Antony Ghee. “But, I think you need to embrace all these events if you want to represent everybody … Martin and I have gone to everything because I think if you’re telling people you’re going to listen to them, you have to listen to them.”
The two candidates that were there largely stuck to their guns in the platform. Hewitt, who bills himself as a liberal Republican frequently expressed support for some liberal policies, including universal healthcare.
The contrast with Allocco and traditional Republican policies there was so stark that one attendant told Hewitt he at first had trouble differentiating the attorney from the Democratic candidates that preceded him.
But, Hewitt later embraced some fiscally conservative policies.
Allocco, on the other hand, provided a more traditional Republican view, up to a certain point. While he espoused support for the Republican tax cuts and mentioned his pro-life stance on abortion, many of his answers came with the caveat that his tenure as congressman would be marked by voting in line with his constituents’ views and not his own.
The debate was a showcase of the more unusual candidates in vying for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, but it’s not clear how much of an effect it will have considering the relatively small audience that remained to view it.
During the Democratic debate, audience members were forced to stand in the aisles after seats in the hall were filled, but roughly two-thirds of those viewers left after the Democratic debate ended, leaving a relatively thin crowd watching Allocco and Hewitt. The event was also broadcast on local high school’s television network.
“What I’m disappointed in is that Democrats did not stick around here to hear what the Republicans had to say, because I know there were some Republicans that stayed for the Democrats,” Hewitt said. “We all have to learn about each other’s views. and I think it’s unfortunate. I have suggested to the organization here that maybe next time, we all get up on the stage together and debate together”