WHIPPANY – The candidates’ forum between 11th district congressional candidates Jay Webber and Mikie Sherrill Tuesday night was a sleepy affair.
Sherrill and Webber did not appear at the same time, nor did the format offer candidates to rebut or build upon one another’s answers. Sherrill, who was first to answer the nine questions posed to both candidates by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, left the building before Webber entered the event hall.
There was no apparent evidence that many undecided voters were in attendance. And there were just a small handful of reporters on hand to witness the event.
The only hint of conflict that, for better or worse, debates have come to be known for came when the candidates were asked, at the end of their respective blocks, whether there was any false information floating around that they would like to correct.
“Unfortunately, at times, it seems like my opponent, Assemblyman Webber would like to make this campaign about anything but the actual issues at hand for New Jersey,” Sherrill said. “So, we’ve seen that he’s been attempting to deceive voters time and again across the district. He has claimed on numerous occasions that I want to abolish ICE. I have never said I want to abolish ICE. I have never wanted to abolish ICE. In fact, I am a former prosecutor that worked closely with ICE agents on various cases.”
Sherrill’s list of grievances, which, in addition to the above comment about her stance on abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, included challenges to Webber’s repeated claims that Sherrill supports House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and wants to cut Medicare and Medicaid marked the events first bits of excitement.
That was about half an hour into the hour-long affair, and while there were a couple moments of short-lived contention during Webber’s turn at the podium, the event largely returned to its sleepy rhythm until it was Webber’s turn to challenge his opponent’s campaign rhetoric.
Webber’s list of grievances, while shorter, focused on women’s issues, which might become a real challenge for the Republican facing a tough race for a seat that has been in Republican hands since 1985.
“I married a Harvard trained lawyer. You think I can go home and not support equal pay for equal work? You’re crazy,” Webber said, referring to Sherrill campaign messaging saying the assemblyman opposed equal pay for equal work. “I have four beautiful daughters, the oldest of whom is a junior in high school, and you better believe they are going to be treated equally in the workplace or I will represent them personally in court.”
While Webber was one of only two legislators to vote against and equal pay bill the state passed earlier this year, he said he did so because the law was flawed and would cause years of litigation over the definitions in the bill.
The bill, Webber said, was not an equal pay for equal work bill but an equal pay for “substantially similar work” bill.
“Anybody can tell me what substantially similar work means? No, you can’t because the sponsor of the bill couldn’t tell you what substantially similar work means,” Webber said. “Substantially similar work is something that will be litigated for years in this state, and the damages that were attached to that bill will crush small employers.”
Webber also took issue with a Sherrill claim over his record on gun rights for those convicted of domestic violence.
Both of those issues could affect how women – especially suburban women, who are the closest thing the state has to true swing voters – view Webber’s candidacy. If those women abandon him, his path to victory narrows to the point of disappearing completely.
A Monmouth University poll released Tuesday that had Sherrill leading Webber 48%-44%, with Sherrill ahead of Webber among women by 22 points, 57%-35%.
But the few moments of drama aside, everything else about the forum proved dreary enough to almost make being stuck in turnpike traffic on a hot summer day in a car with a sputtering air conditioner a desirable alternative – almost.