Debate squashed, spending ramping up in N.J.’s 1st Congressional District race

A debate between New Jersey 1st Congressional District Democratic candidates Alex Law (left) and Donald Norcross was cancelled. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A debate between New Jersey 1st Congressional District Democratic candidates Alex Law (left) and Donald Norcross was cancelled. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A debate scheduled for Thursday night between the two Democratic candidates for the 1st Congressional District seat was cancelled on short notice by its sponsors.

It means that incumbent Rep. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, and former IBM consultant Alex Law will not face off in a head-to-head debate before the state’s primary election on Tuesday. (The two Democrats and Republican Bob Patterson participated in a forum on Tuesday hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey.)

“Congressman Norcross is disappointed that today’s event has been canceled as he enjoyed the previous meetings he had with his challengers,” read a message from Norcross’ campaign. “Under the circumstances, he respects the decision.”

At issue are allegedly charged interactions between Gloucester County NAACP president Loretta Winters, one of the debate’s sponsors, and Law’s campaign.

“It feels very much to me like this was the plan all along. To cancel the debate at the very last second and to waste our campaign’s precious time. This feels like an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone,'” said Law, who claimed the venue would have been too small, attendance would have been restricted, and that live-streaming would have been prohibited.

“Let me be clear: I have said this since the first day of my campaign,­­ I will debate Donald Norcross today, tomorrow, in a small venue, in a big venue, on TV or otherwise,” he said.

But the cancellation of the debate does not mean that voters will stop hearing about the showdown the South Jersey district. A Washington, D.C.-based group, Patriot Majority USA, has ramped up spending in recent weeks on behalf of Norcross.

Patriot Majority USA, which does not disclose its donors and is prohibited from coordinating with the campaign, has spent nearly $215,000 in the past three weeks on direct mail ads in support of Norcross.

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