Republican Rosemary Becchi repeatedly attempted to paint Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) as a member of the Democratic Party’s far left while unabashedly embracing President Donald Trump during a New Jersey Globe debate Sunday night.
In a largely civil exchange, the two candidates displayed stark differences in their beliefs, disagreeing on abortion, guns, health care and law enforcement – demonstrating that Sherrill and Becchi would have very different voting records as the congresswoman from the 11th district.
The Republican challenger repeatedly attacked the incumbent on her voting record’s alignment with that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, repeatedly claiming Sherrill reneged on her 2018 campaign pledge to be a moderate in Congress.
Sherrill, one of fifteen House Democrats who did not vote for Pelosi for speaker, declined to say if she would vote for Pelosi in January.
“I haven’t decided who to vote for in the next election,” Sherrill said. “I’m definitely going to vote for somebody who
Still, Becchi invoked Pelosi’s name over and over as she sought to highlight similarities between Sherrill and the House Speaker.
“My opponent and Nancy Pelosi not only want to take your guns, they also want to defund the police, and again, we can’t have that,” Becchi said. “We need to protect and support our police.”
Sherrill opposes defunding the police.
She announced as much in early June following a vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is named for the black Minneapolis resident who was killed by police after an officer pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes and which, among other things sought, to eliminate qualified immunity.
“What part of my $3.5 billion of legislation I’ve supported and voted for funding the police shows that I, in any way, would ever want to defund the police?” the freshman congresswoman said. “Nothing.”
Sherrill went after Becchi on gun control, jabbing Becchi over her A rating from the National Rifle Association.
“You earned an A from this with things like being for ghost guns and 3-D printing, against magazine capacity limits, against a silencer ban, which was really harmful to our law enforcement. against taking away guns from people on the terrorist watch list,” Sherill said. “This is a really extreme view of gun legislation, and I would posit that this is out line with the views and the values of the 11th district.”
Becchi said she didn’t consider her own views extreme, nor did she consider them out of step with the district’s.
As a first-time candidate two years ago, Sherrill was able to take shots at her Republican opponent’s eleven-year voting record in the State Assembly.
This time, Sherill’s voting record was front and center in Becchi’s pitch to make Sherrill a one-term congresswoman.
The challenger claimed Sherrill supported the movement because she voted in favor of the revised Heroes Act, which cut $600 milllion in federal moneys to two police programs. House Democrats’ original $3.4 trillion stimulus bill was rejected by Republicans because of its price tag, and there’s been no movement in the Senate on the pared-down $2.2 trillion version.
The police reemerged as an issue more than once during the debate, with Becchi launching attacks concerning qualified immunity for police officers.
“There are absolutely bad apples, and those bad apples need to be published, however, to create a bill and pass a bill that would allow a criminal to sue a police officer who is doing their job is not the answer,” Becchi said.
Qualified immunity shields police officers and other public officials from civil suits over constitutional rights violations. As it stands, the protection only applies in cases where legal precedent exists.
Sherrill said the bill’s reforms were to make sure problem officers could be held liable for abuses.
“When you have police officers that take a mentally disabled man and drive him across state lines and leave him on the edge of a highway, where he later gets struck by a car and dies, those police officers had no accountability,” Sherrill said. “Look, when you have great responsibility — life and death responsibility, as you have, say, in the military — you also have a great deal of accountability, and that’s what this bill does.”
Many of Becchi’s attacks over police were leveled in a mailer sent by the New Jersey Now Action Fund, a super PAC formed to boost Becchi’s campaign when she was still exploring a run in the seventh congressional district.
The Republican denied a direct call to condemn the group’s mailer, which prominently featured a picture of a burning flag used as a fuse in a Molotov cocktail.
“I don’t know anything about the mailer. It was not sent by my campaign,” she said before pivoting into attacks back to qualified immunity.
In a release sent out by Sherrill’s campaign Friday, retired U.S. Navy Commander William Squires called on the challenger to condemn the mailer, which Becchi’s campaign declined to do.
“I just want to reiterate as somebody who’s a veteran and has served this country, to have that sent against them then to have my opponent in our election not decry that and say that’s inappropriate is really incredibly offensive,” Sherrill said.
The challenger also went after Sherrill, who served as a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot and Russian policy officer, over veterans.
“As I travel around the district, I repeatedly hear from veterans that my opponent hasn’t been there for them and hasn’t been met with them,” she said. “When they travel to Washington, her office wouldn’t meet with them, and they don’t feel like they have a voice with her.”
But Sherill pushed back hard on her record of fighting for veterans.
The House Armed Services Committee member pointed to a bill she backed with Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) that funded service dogs for veterans and to her constituent services for veterans in the district.
“One veteran we got over $130,000 in back pay he was owed. We’ve gotten people who were getting their credit dinged because of the VA. We’ve gotten them paid, their creditors paid off,” she said. “So, we worked very hard for our veterans, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
Sherrill also leveled strong criticism at Becchi’s record as a Washington lobbyist, say she lobbied for Western Union to get around anti-terrorist legislation “so they could give money to human traffickers.”
“She has lobbied for Exxon Mobil to get around many of the environmental regulations,” Sherrill charged. “She’s continued throughout her career to lobby against the regulations that keep New Jersey families safe.”
Sherrill specifically calling her out her lobbying in favor a the 2017 tax bill that capped the State and Local Property Tax (SALT) deduction at $10,000.
The Democrat quoted her one-time opponent, former Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, saying that the Republican tax bill “just forced tax increases on New Jerseyans to pay for tax cuts in other states.”
“My opponent lobbied for this tax bill, not just on behalf of retirement saving, but on behalf of corporate tax cuts for her corporate clients,” Sherrill said.
Becchi said she was a tax lawyer who has lobbied for “lower taxes and less regulation.”
Though Sherrill was reluctant to criticize Trump on campaign trail in 2018 — the president carried the district 49%-48% against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016 — she showed few such reservations on the virtual debate stage.
Becchi doubled down on her pro-life stance, while Sherrill said it was “critically important that we fully fund Planned Parenthood.”
Like other debates, Trump continued to be an omnipresent factor in the 11th district congressional race.
Sherrill hammered Trump on his response to the pandemic, hitting both the president and Becchi on lax observance of social distancing and masking guidelines meant to halt the spread of COVID-19.
“My office has gotten quite a few calls about my opponent in large gatherings without a mask,” the incumbent said after Becchi insisted her campaign followed CDC guidelines. “We’ve received pictures of that, and we’ve even had complaints of people from her campaign coming to constituents’ doors without a mask on, so I’m glad going forward she’s going to take these health precautions seriously.”
Pictures on the challenger’s Facebook page show a mixed record on masking and social distancing.