Democrat incumbent New Jersey Congressmen Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman used their final broadcast debate Monday night to try make a pitch for the party's progressives ahead of the June 5 primary to decide who should represent the freshly drawn 9th district.
The two incumbents, with relatively similar voting records, are vying for the same seat because New Jersey lost a congressional district through redistricting.
During the heated debate at Montclair State University Monday, Rothman said his opponent was late to support same-sex marriage, voted for tax breaks for the wealthy and had an inconsistent voting record on reproductive rights.
"I'd say I am the progressive voice of the Democratic Party represented here. I am the Democrat's Democrat up here," Rothman said.
Pascrell accused Rothman of "deceitfully" distorting his voting record that Pascrell said included votes cast to help win compromises that set the stage for the passage of President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act.
Pascrell made his own pitch for left-of-center Democratic voters while also making a play for the veterans' vote.
"I have recommended and suggested and support cuts in the defense and I am a military guy. I am the veteran on this stage," Pascrell said.
Both candidates did their best to tie themselves to the current Democratic administration in the White House. Pascrell pointed to his endorsement by Bill Clinton, and Rothman reminded the audience of his early support for President Barack Obama.
Analysts say that without a presidential contest, the June 5 primary is likely to draw just one in five Democratic voters. That means both campaigns have to be extra attentive to key constituencies that are known to turn-out.
The 9th District is home to one of the largest concentrations of Arab-American voters in the nation.
In a pitch for those voters, Rothman reminded the audience of his response to the disclosure the NYPD had conducted covert surveillance in Muslims and their businesses in Newark.
"When the New York Police Department was charged with surveilling Muslim Americans in New Jersey, I was the only one of the two of us up here that wrote to Attorney General Holder demanding an investigation," Rothman said.
Pascrell expressed his support for Imam Mohammad Qatanani of the Islamic Center of Passaic County who faces deportation over allegations he concealed his support of Hamas. Qatanani denies the affiliation, and has been lauded for his post-9/11 work with law enforcement.
The new 9th includes eastern and southern Bergen and portions of Passaic and Hudson counties.
The two men will debate a third and final time on May 23 at the Ethical Culture Society in Teaneck. The debate will not be broadcast.