Steve Lonegan outperformed Chris Christie for much of the second televised debate of the gubernatorial campaign, which was broadcast today. If the nomination hinged solely on this debate performance, Lonegan would be the nominee.
However, the nomination hinges on what happens over the next two weeks.
Lonegan fell into a Christie trap which the former U.S. Attorney will use relentlessly to raise doubts about Lonegan on the stump, in mailers, and in radio and TV ads.
Lonegan said, in his answer to Christie's question, that he would allow terrorists presently detained at Gitmo to be jailed in New Jersey, should President Obama close the terrorist detention center in Cuba. The former Bogota Mayor almost avoided the trap in his initial answer, but took the bait, hook, line and sinker, when Christie pressed for a yes or no on follow up. Watch Christie's reaction closely to Lonegan's answer. He put the answer in his pocket as if it was what he came for.
Except for that one gaffe, Lonegan performed much better than he did in the NJN debate last Tuesday. He staid on message and used every opportunity he could to contrast his message to Christie's. Not once did he say he agreed with Christie, as he said several times in the previous debate, after declaring that he would use that debate to make a clear case that he was the best candidate.
Lonegan scored some points in defending his flat tax plan, which has become the focal point of both campaigns. By revealing that "the independent analysis" that said the flat tax would raise taxes on 70% was written by the same former State Treasurer, Peter Laurence, who advocated the ill advised 9% state pension increase given to state workers the last time Republicans controlled Trenton, Lonegan painted Christie as a member of the Whitman/DiFrancesco establishment. Christie contributed to this impression by referring to the analysis as "ours" where he has previously referred to it as "independent."
If the rest of the campaign is like the last couple of weeks, a debate about Lonegan's flat tax plan, Lonegan could gain ground as he explains it and raises doubts about Christie for his lack of specifics about his tax plan. However, Lonegan assured that he will be fighting at least a two front war over the last weeks of the campaign when he gave Christie the terrorist detention issue to hammer him with.
For Christie's part, with a lead in the polls and more money in the bank, he appeared to be running out the clock for much of this debate. He was less animated than he was on Tuesday and didn't "hit any out of the park." His self-depreciating joke, that he went to law school because he was not good at math or science, will be the subject of some Lonegan material, but it was not nearly the gaffe that Lonegan's terrorist answer was.