A 90-minute showdown at Montclair State University served as the final gubernatorial debate between incumbent Chris Christie and Democratic challenger Barbara Buono. Tuesday night’s session covered many of the same issues as last week’s debate, but there were still some fireworks.

Chris Christie and Barbara Buono at second gubernatorial debate (NJTV)

Governor Christie has not been shy about his opposition to same-sex marriage in New Jersey, but the issue was presented in a unique way by panelist Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair. She asked Christie how he’d react if one of his own children told him, “Daddy, I’m gay, and I want to marry the love of my life.”

“I would grab them, and I would hug them and tell them I love them,” Christie responded. “But what I would also tell them is that Dad believes that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

State Senator Buono, who has an openly-gay daughter, criticized Governor Christie for his failure to treat marriage equality as a human rights issue.

“This Governor equates it with guns and taxes,” Buono said.

Democrats in Trenton have attempted to legislate gay marriage, and the issue is currently before the state Supreme Court, but Christie said he’d only allow same-sex marriage if New Jersey residents approve it at the polls.

A good portion of the debate focused on Senator Buono’s education platform and how she plans to cover the estimated $3 billion price tag.

While Buono couldn’t offer a clear plan, she admitted a portion of funding would come in the form of an increased millionaire’s tax. Christie, however, said Buono wouldn’t stop there.

“She would follow the same path she’s followed her entire career in Trenton,” Christie said. “She will raise taxes, she will raise fees, and she’ll do it on everybody.”

Buono’s education plan calls for universal preschool and full-day kindergarten, as well as the restoration of school funding and fixing dilapidated schools.

Buono has been lagging way behind Christie in recent polls on the race; she had more to gain with the debate than Christie had to lose. Krista Jenkins, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and director of FDU PublicMind, said Buono definitely had a stronger performance during this week’s debate, compared to last week.

Jenkins noted, though, not many people tune into debates, even though it involves a statewide race.

“Generally, debates don’t move the needle that much,” Jenkins said. “The reality is that most people are not aware that there was even a debate.”

The night began with Christie, again, defending his straightforward and blunt demeanor.

The first question from moderator Mike Schneider, managing editor of NJ Today, was whether Christie would continue his “strong rhetoric.”

The Governor wasted no time saying he wouldn’t change a thing.

“The fact is that when folks act in a certain manner, they know I’m going to call them out,” he said.

Buono shot back, suggesting that Christie’s “straight talk” is an example of disrespect to anyone who disagrees with him.

“Quite frankly, I think that undermines coming together in strong bipartisanship and being able to bridge the gap,” Buono said.

Stage at Montclair University for gubernatorial debate (NJTV)

There was no shortage of attacks during the debate. Christie and Buono went back-and-forth on several issues, including sick leave payouts and their alignment with dishonest politicians.

The people on stage weren’t the only ones getting the audience’s attention, however. The program was interrupted twice by members of the crowd who wanted to have their own voices heard.

Governor Christie would still not indicate whether he planned to run for President of the United States in 2016. Buono said Christie is “trivializing the issue” by not giving New Jersey residents a straight answer.


Extended Debate Audio