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Editorial: Debates

Where's Lautenberg?

Unlike golf, there are no gimmes in politics. Sen. Frank Lautenberg should know that.

But Lautenberg appears to be taking his New Jersey primary election for granted by ducking his toughest challenger, Rep. Rob Andrews.

Rather than engage in a series of debates, Lautenberg is acting perturbed because Andrews has dared run against him.

So far, the incumbent has agreed to just one televised debate with Andrews, and one radio debate.

Lautenberg has rejected numerous invitations to do more than two debates. He's opened himself up to suspicions that, at 84, he doesn't want to show his age.

There are clear policy differences between Lautenberg and the 50-year-old Andrews. New Jersey voters should get to see that in debates, so they will be better informed when they go to the polls.

Yesterday, Andrews agreed to a debate that would be televised May 30 by the ABC affiliates in Philadelphia and New York. But Lautenberg has agreed only to participate in a New Jersey public television debate that same date.

And that's just four days before the voting. It's also the Friday of Memorial Day week, when many Jersey voters will be driving to the Shore. In other words, very few voters will be watching. Which is what Lautenberg apparently wants. His spokeswoman has said "two debates are sufficient."

Andrews points out that when Lautenberg first ran for Senate in 1982 against Rep. Millicent Fenwick, he argued for more than the five debates they did.

There's no magic number of debates to be had, but voters are entitled to see and hear the candidates mix it up as much as possible. Yo, Frank: You can run for reelection, but you can't hide.