TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The jabs and insults that had been confined to campaign commercials and news releases in New Jersey's close and contentious 3rd District Congressional race were made face-to-face Friday as the candidates appeared together for the first time.
Democrat Aimee Belgard and Republican Tom MacArthur barely touched on policy issues during the 27-minute joint interview they recorded for the public TV station NJTV.
Instead, they continued the theme of the race so far: Character attacks.
MacArthur pressed Belgard to disavow attack ads run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The ads criticize MacArthur, a former insurance company owner, as making money as the firm he once owned, York Risk Services Group., Inc. denied payments to those affected by wildfires and hurricanes.
One of the commercials was dropped and another was changed after complaints of inaccuracies.
"You had an opportunity to say to your party, 'These ads are lies,'" MacArthur said. "They've been demonstrated as lies. You're the beneficiary of these ads.
But Belgard said she had nothing to do with the commercials, pointing out that she is not allowed to coordinate with the Democratic group on its ads. She responded by pointing to elements of his campaign.
"Let's talk about the fake website you've created about me, the fake Facebook page you've created for me, the fake Twitter feed you've created for me," she said.
He said he makes it clear that his campaign — funded mostly out of his pocket — is paying for those.
MacArthur, meanwhile, said Belgard is a "tool" of the Democratic Party, something she said her bipartisan work on the Burlington County freeholders board shows is not the case.
There was some room to air policy differences.
Belgard asked MacArthur about his views on equal pay for men and women who perform the same jobs. She favors measures aimed at encouraging it.
He said he's for the concept and that, as an insurance company CEO, he gave women raises to ensure equity. But he balked at legislation mandating it, saying it could spur litigation.
"I want to see women benefiting," he said, "not just trial lawyers benefiting."
Belgard is a lawyer.
On other issues, the candidates did not show major differences.
Both said creating jobs and maintaining a major role for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the biggest employer in the district that stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs to the shore, is a priority.
Both said they support military intervention against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and both said President Barack Obama decided to get involved there too late.
The interview is scheduled to air at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
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