New Jersey congressional candidates Jon Runyan and Justin Murphy said Tuesday that they support oil drilling off the New Jersey coast, a politically volatile topic after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Third District Republican candidates, in a meeting with the Inquirer Editorial Board, said that the April 20 spill was a tragedy but that offshore drilling would help the country end its dependence on foreign oil.

Runyan said New Jersey residents should be able to vote on whether to permit drilling. Murphy said that "if it can't be done in an environmentally responsible way, I'll not be for it."

"If we have one accident in 40 years, I think that's a pretty good track record," Murphy said, adding that he would favor stronger regulation of the industry and that lessons could be learned from the cleanup.

New Jersey voters have long opposed offshore drilling. Republican and Democratic candidates typically say they are against it.

When President Obama said he would step up drilling on the Atlantic Coast, the state's leading Democratic and Republican politicians - including Republican Gov. Christie, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.), and both Democratic U.S. senators, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez - said they did not want rigs off the coast.

Freshman U.S. Rep. John Adler (D., N.J.), who represents the Third District, which runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County, also opposes drilling off the coast but favors more domestic oil production.

After the spill, Obama halted the issuing of new leases until rigs have been equipped with better safeguards.

The editorial board session on Tuesday was a rare meeting of the two candidates running in the June 8 GOP primary. Though both Runyan, a former Eagles player, and Murphy, a lawyer, have been invited to primary debates, only Murphy has agreed to attend.

Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or