In NJ Senate Race, Incumbent Faces Ex-Congressman

In perhaps the least-noticed Senate race in the country, New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg is facing a challenge from former GOP Congressman Dick Zimmer. The two faced off last night in the first of two debates. WNYC's Isaac-Davy Aronson has more.

REPORTER: Lautenberg leads in all the polls, and the race mirrors the national political landscape: a Republican facing an uphill battle in a climate inhospitable to his party. So it was no surprise at last night's debate that when Lautenberg tried to paint Zimmer as a Bush administration clone, the former Congressman sought to play up his independent streak.

ZIMMER: When I was in Congress, and in the Legislature, I did not hesitate to vote against my own party when I thought it was being fiscally irresponsible.

REPORTER: Picking up the "change" theme of the current election, Zimmer called Lautenberg part of a corrupt system beholden to lobbyists. Lautenberg shot back.

LAUTENBERG: No one knows better than Dick Zimmer, who has been a lobbyist until he left that job to run for Senate.

REPORTER: The debate aired only on New Jersey radio station 101.5 FM, though Zimmer said he had asked Lautenberg to debate on New York or Philadelphia TV. For WNYC, I'm Isaac-Davy Aronson.