Update: The William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University announced that the 2nd district State Senate debate has been cancelled. They said Polistina was willing to debate in person, but not under the proposed virtual format.
A Republican primary debate between the two State Senate candidates in the Atlantic County-based 2nd legislative district might be falling through after the League of Women Voters refused to participate in an in-person forum.
Vince Polistina and Seth Grossman had both accepted an invitation from the LWV and William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University to participate in the March 11 forum, which was set to be held online.
“I accepted a debate with both candidates and the moderator in the same room while following all distancing and other recommendations to keep everyone safe,” said Polistina, a former assemblyman. “I said they could stream it however they wanted. They indicated that statewide League of Women Voter Rules prevented them from being able to stage a real debate where the candidates are on stage together.”
Polistina declined the virtual debate format, and Grossman isn’t happy.
“I think my opponent made a mistake,” Grossman said of an invitation extended by Stockton University and the League of Women Voters. “I am urging him to reconsider.”
Diane D’Amico, a Stockton spokesperson, said there is still a chance that the debate will happen, albeit without the LWV.
“We have not made a final decision,” D’Amico said. “We’re still considering our options.”
According to D’Amico, the logistics are difficult. She said they would need to find a suitable location on campus with graduation week.
“There is a silver lining,” said Grossman, a former Atlantic County freeholder and Atlantic City councilman. “By avoiding this debate, is my opponent admitting that I am the stronger candidate at forums like this? Is he showing that he is not as prepared and willing as I to fight ‘woke’ Democrats?”
While Grossman accused Stockton and the LWV of having a Democratic bias, he said his debate against Jeff Van Drew in 2018 – when Van Drew was running as a Democrat for Congress – “showed how Republicans can win by using even biased questions to talk about the real issues that matter to most voters.”
“Stockton University and the League of Women Voters give us a platform to reach independent and undecided voters we cannot reach any other way,” Grossman said. “If Democrats bring up ugly issues in this early debate, they give us Republicans extra to research, prepare, and deliver responses to them before the November election–the election that counts the most.”
Polistina has the endorsement of the Atlantic County Republican organization in his bid to succeed retiring State Sen. Christopher Brown (R-Ventnor), but Grossman has won off the line before.
In 2018, he won the Republican primary for the chance to take on Van Drew even though Hirsh Singh and Sam Fiocchi had the organization lines.
The winner will take on Democrat Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield), a four-term assemblyman, in the general election.
This story was updated at 2:03 PM.