A League of Women-hosted 11th legislative district debate that was scheduled to take place tonight has been cancelled, following the unexpected withdrawal of the district’s three Republican candidates.
The debate was intended to be a forum for the district’s Democratic incumbents – State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch), Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Freehold), and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune) – to debate with their Republican opponents.
But over the weekend, Republican Assembly nominees Kim Eulner and Marilyn Piperno withdrew; Senate nominee Lori Annetta followed suit yesterday. The debate was then cancelled, per League of Women Voters debate rules that prohibit “empty chair” debates with only one party or candidate in attendance.
“It’s a shame that our opponents decided to pull out of the League of Women Voters forum and not speak to the voters of our district,” Downey and Houghtaling said in a joint statement. “Their refusal to participate shows a lack of respect for our democratic process and demonstrates that they are not up to the task of serving Monmouth County residents.”
According to the League of Women Voters, Annetta cancelled because of a “scheduling conflict”; a spokesman for the Republican legislative campaign operation did not respond as of publication time with a further explanation for why the three Republicans dropped out.
“We too are very disappointed that District 11 constituents will not be able to benefit from the information that the forum would have generated in aiding them in their voting decisions,” the League of Women Voters said in a statement.
There are no other debates currently scheduled in the district – and since challengers, not incumbents, typically drive calls for more debates, there may be little appetite to rapidly schedule a replacement.
The 11th district is on the edge of this year’s legislative playing field, having voted for President Joe Biden by 12 points but electing an all-Republican slate of legislators as recently as 2013. National Republicans seem to view the Assembly races in particular as potentially competitive, dropping $100,000 yesterday on an ad campaign targeting Downey and Houghtaling.