Sen. Robert Menendez and state Sen. Joe Kyrillos discussed the economy, health care and foreign policy in a combative debate Thursday.
The candidates, who are competing for one of New Jersey's seats in the U.S. Senate, each claimed their own policies would prove to be more beneficial to the state's middle class families.
Kyrillos, a Republican, has held a seat in the New Jersey Senate since 1992. Menendez, a Democrat and the incumbent, has held his current position since he was appointed by then-Gov. Jon Corzine in 2006. He previously served in the House of Representatives.
Menendez said he would fight for the middle class by continuing to lead initiatives such as creating tax credits for families and students. He also said he wanted to close tax loopholes exploited by corporations and continue to bring money to New Jersey, as he has for transportation programs like NJTransit.
"The middle class is under attack, and that is why I have been fighting back," Menendez said.
Watch the first New Jersey U.S. Senate debate. Forward to timestamp 30:00.
Kyrillos criticized Menendez for a possible increase in the tax rate next year, but Menendez said he believed legislators would work hard for the remainder of this year to keep taxes from increasing.
"We have to be sure we don't give a body blow to this economy, which is still in recovery," Menendez told reporters.
Kyrillos said he would advocate for universal tax cuts, including for corporations, in order to encourage growth. He has previously supported state initiatives to create incentives to encourage businesses to come to New Jersey.
"We're going to have to raise revenue, and I want to do it through growth," Kyrillos said.
On health care, Menendez said he would continue his policy of advocating for low-income families to have affordable options. On abortion, he is pro-choice and has previously voted in favor of health care which allows women to have different options.
"I want women to make their own decisions about their health care and their bodies," Menendez said.
Menendez criticized Kyrillos for changing his stance on abortion from pro-life to pro-choice, though Kyrillos said he believes women should have options, but also supports parental notice and a waiting period. Kyrillos said he opposes third trimester abortions.
Kyrillos also said he believed some of the president's health care changes were necessary, including coverage for people with pre-existing illnesses and allowing young adults to stay on their parents' plans. Other parts of the plan come with too high a cost, Kyrillos said, though he did not specify what portions.
Both candidates agreed that Iran was a serious threat to national security. Menendez has sponsored legislation creating sanctions against Iran, which he said has already had an effect on their economy and he hoped would discourage their pursuit of a nuclear program. Kyrillos said the sanctions were not working, as Iran has apparently not given up on its nuclear ambitions.
Kyrillos also said he supports an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan, though he previously criticized the withdrawal time line. Menendez said he was glad American troops were gone from Iraq because he believed it was a mistake to go there in the first place. He also supports a switch from an anti-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan to an anti-terrorist strategy, which would require fewer troops in the country, he said.
The candidates are scheduled to participate in two more debates on Oct. 10, sponsored by 101.5 FM, and Oct. 14, sponsored by The League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund, WABC-TV, WPV1-TZV and Univision.