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4 NJ Dems Facing Off Before US Senate Primary

Newark Mayor Cory Booker File Photo (credit: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

Newark Mayor Cory Booker File Photo (credit: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

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NEWARK, N.J., (AP) – Three Democrats seeking their party’s nomination in a special U.S. Senate race stepped up their criticism of a fourth candidate and the front runner, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, in the final debate before next week’s primary election day.

During the debate at WBGO-FM studio in Newark, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone said Booker spends too much time outside his city giving speeches and is too closely tied to Wall Street donors,

State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said Booker was too focused on Newark issues and not all communities statewide.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt criticized Booker’s entire approach, saying he’s talking too much about building coalition and not enough about policy.

“There goes Cory again. He said we’ve got to come together in a new way of thinking or something. Let’s be specific here,” he said. “Our positions shouldn’t be top secret.”

Booker, who has been ahead in every public poll conducted on the election and is ahead in fundraising, ignored some of the barbs, and even went out of his way to compliment his opponents as good leaders. But he defended his travels, saying he’s making connections with people who are helping fund programs in his city as federal and state funding dries up.

“I’ve gone out and helped bring in hundreds of millions,” he said. “I’ll go anywhere and meet with anybody, famous or not, who’s going to benefit our city.”

And on a question about immigration policy, he tried to strike back at Holt.

“The Congress people may want to pooh-pooh this idea of coming together,” he said, but that is how the Senate found common ground to adopt changes to federal immigration policy.

He also accused his opponents of “muddling” his record on Social Security and at times chided them for talking about him rather than issues.

Thursday’s debate was only the second time all four Democrats appeared at a forum together. The earlier one, on Monday in Montclair, was more cordial.

Still, they did agree Thursday on several fronts. They defended President Barack Obama’s often-attacked health care overhaul, supported immigration reform and the preservation of Social Security, and agreed the country must take action to address climate change, for instance.

The winner of the primary will face a conservative Republican — either Franklin Township physician Alieta Eck or former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan — in an Oct. 16 special election to determine who will serve the final 15 months of the term of Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg died in June at age 89.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)