EWING, N.J. - The three Democrats running for a U.S. Senate seat sparred last night over their records on supporting the war in Iraq.
Incumbent Frank Lautenberg acknowledged that a challenger, U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews, who was an author of the bill that authorized the war, has since called for a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops.
But Lautenberg, in a radio debate aired on New Jersey 101.5 FM, argued that Andrews has not been an effective advocate for ending the war.
"I never heard Rob Andrews make a statement that would seriously get us out of there," he said.
Andrews accused Lautenberg of misstating his own record on the war.
"The senator has just completely misrepresented his position," Andrews said, pointing out that when he was running for the Senate in 2002, Lautenberg said he supported invading Iraq.
The third candidate, Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello, said he had opposed the war from the start. All three said they wanted a timetable to remove troops.
It was the first debate for the three Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate.
Debates themselves have been a point of contention in the campaign. When Andrews surprised the New Jersey political world by entering the race this spring, he challenged Lautenberg to a series of debates, then held several news conferences to criticize him for not responding.
Lautenberg eventually agreed to last night's debate and another scheduled for 8 p.m. today on New Jersey Network public television.
On some policy areas, they had similar views: All three support creating a higher minimum wage and repealing tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. For the most part, though, Andrews and Lautenberg sparred while ignoring Cresitello.
As it has been throughout the race, Lautenberg's age, 84, was discussed.
But Andrews, 50, who has aired a commercial that notes Lautenberg will turn 91 during his term if he's elected, said it's not exactly Lautenberg's age that's a problem.
"I think that he's not effective in the U.S. Senate. I don't think age has anything to do with it," Andrews said. "I think it's his level of commitment for the next six years."
Andrews agreed that he would bring up Lautenberg's age only when asked about it. Lautenberg quipped that he wouldn't, either: "I will not bring up age again, I promise you that."