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NJ-4 Dems keeping claws out with primary days away

Candidate forum reveals schisms between candidates

By Nikita Biryukov, July 05 2020 11:47 pm

There’s little love lost between Democratic candidates in New Jersey’s 4th district.

What was supposed to be a relaxed discussion about the politics of the race for the nod to oust Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton) more than once moved into an almost-bitter debate about each candidate’s perceived flaws.

Journalist/author David Applefield and lifestyle coach Christine Conforti, a former United Nations staffer, went after former U.S. Department of State official Stephanie Schmid over her organizational support, with Applefield refusing to commit to supporting her if she was chosen to face the incumbent in November.

“I really don’t want Stephanie to win because I think it would be a disaster because it would be, again, another failed attempt at bringing about change in our district,” Applefield said.

Both Applefield and Conforti chaffed somewhat at Schmid’s organizational support. She won Democratic lines in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, while Conforti won the Mercer County Democratic Convention.

Despite that victory, Conforti said she supported eliminating the line for future races.

Schmid didn’t weigh in on that argument, instead pleading for voters to pick a candidate that, demographically, didn’t much resemble Smith.

“It’s not about machine politics on the right or left, and I do agree with David, it is about running a different candidate, and that’s not another straight white guy in his 60s,” she said.

Though she later said the comment wasn’t a shot at Applefield, the only man seeking the Democratic nod, it still earned her a reprisal from the former journalist, who charged Schmid was speaking in the “clichés of politics.”

Applefield was the only one to rule out voting for one of his primary opponents. Schmid said she’d back Applefield and Conforti without any qualification, while Conforti said she’d support both despite concerns over the authenticity of Schmid’s

“I do find your talking points, like David said, to be very status quo talking points,” Conforti said. “People feel the difference when you’re reading from a piece of paper or some political consultant told you something versus you’re actually speaking from your heart.”

During the forum, Conforti carved out a niche for herself as the race’s most progressive candidate.

Applefield pushed one of his recent proposals, a plan that would see a fee levied on stock market transactions processed in New Jersey data centers. He claimed New Jersey could use the fee, worth half a cent or more per share of each transaction, to plug the $10 billion hole the pandemic put in the state’s budget.

Schmid pushed more established policies, urging the passage of the Medicare for America Act, which would create a national health insurance plan for all the country’s residents while allowing some to opt out for other qualified coverage. The plan’s proponents say it would drive down healthcare prices by allowing the government to negotiate down drug prices, among other things.

Conforti touted her support for progressive policies like a universal basic income, Medicare for All, and student loan debt forgiveness while urging debt-free financial assistance for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

She repeatedly stressed the importance of expanding the electorate by engaging typically-disaffected young voters, the same strategy Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren used during most recent presidential bid.

“The creative idea is stop being corrupt, U.S. government,” Conforti said. “Put people and the planet over corporate profits and over your own profits.”

Smith has held the seat since ousting a 13-term incumbent in 1980, facing several strong Democrats over the last 40 years.

The candidate forum was moderated by New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein.

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