TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican rival Jack Ciattarelli will go head to head in two debates in late September and mid-October while their running mates will clash once, New Jersey election officials announced Wednesday.
Murphy and Ciattarelli will debate at 7 p.m. on Sept. 28 at the Performing Arts Center in Newark and again at 8 p.m. on Oct. 12 at Rowan University in Glassboro.
Lt. Gov. Shelia Oliver, a Democrat, and Republican Diane Allen will debate 7 p.m. Oct. 5 at Rider University in Lawrenceville.
The debates were expected because they’re required under law when candidates receive public matching funds, as both Murphy and Ciattarelli are this year.
There was some debate about the debates.
Murphy’s campaign had requested they be held within a week of Sept. 28 as a way to benefit early voters. Clerks will begin mailing ballots on Sept. 18.
Ciattarelli had requested adding another debate before the mail-in ballots go to voters, but Ciattarelli spokesperson Stami Williams said the campaign never heard back from Murphy.
Murphy campaign spokesperson Jerrel Harvey didn’t address in an email whether Murphy would do a third debate but said the governor has committed to the two debates.
The state Election Law Enforcement Commission, which organizes the debates, decided it wanted to leave the debates spread out and doubted all mail-in voters would instantly return their ballots. There had also been “extensive preparations” already made for the dates that had been previously set.
New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states holding regularly scheduled races for governor this year. California has a recall election for its governorship.
Murphy, who was elected in 2017 after two terms of Republican Chris Christie, is seeking to become the first Democrat to win reelection in New Jersey in more than four decades.
Polls show him with a lead over Ciattarelli, a former state Assembly member and small business founder with an accounting background.
Murphy is a self-styled progressive and has signed a number of liberal measures that Christie blocked, including a phased-in $15 minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy and legalized recreational marijuana. Murphy also signed tighter gun control bills and bills to expand paid sick leave for workers.
He’s also piloted the state through the coronavirus pandemic, with surveys showing him getting decent grades for his handling of the outbreak.
The state has among the highest percentages of people fully vaccinated in the country. It also has among the highest per capita death rates from COVID-19 in the country.
Ciattarelli had a reputation as a moderate in the Legislature but has warmed up to former President Donald Trump. He’s running in part on a platform that Murphy’s policies have made New Jersey, which is known for its high tax rates, less affordable. He’s also criticized Murphy’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly in nursing homes, which were hit hard early on in the pandemic.
The September debate will be on by the New York and Philadelphia ABC affiliates along with Twitter, Univision, WBGO-FM, NJ.com and the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics and Rutgers School of Public Affairs.
The debate between Oliver and Allen, a former state senator and one-time Philadelphia TV news anchor, is being run by the New Jersey Globe, the Rebovich Institute of Politics at Rider and Project Ready. It will be livestreamed on the Globe’s website and on social media and rebroadcast on WABC radio.
The October gubernatorial debate is sponsored by NJ PBS, NJ Spotlight News, the Rowan Institute for Public Policy, New York Public Radio and the Gothamist. It will air live on TV and radio and be live via television as well as livestreamed on sponsors’ sites.
Election Day is Nov. 2, but early mail-in ballots will be sent out beginning Sept. 18. For the first time this year, there will be early in-person voting, which runs from Oct. 23 to Oct. 31.