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Gubernatorial Debates

Posted at 3:08 pm October 3, 2017, in 2017 Elections, NJ Governors

With the first 2017 general election gubernatorial debate set to take one week from tonight, we thought it would be a good time to highlight two documents from the Eagleton Center on the American Governor archives. They are both from the 1989 race between Rep. Jim Florio (D) and Rep. Jim Courter (R), another year when an incumbent Republican governor was completing his second and final term.

Florio was the favorite in 1989, eight years after losing an extremely tight race against Tom Kean (R). Indeed, Florio would eventually win the seat convincingly, with 61% of the vote. First, though, he would face off against Courter in two debates.


Program from the first gubernatorial general election debate in the 1989 campaign

The first took place on September 25, 1989. As the debate program shows, WWOR-TV and the Asbury Park Press sponsored the event, which was held at Monmouth College and  moderated Rolland Smith of WWOR. Journalists Karen DeMasters of the Asbury Park Press, Dave Blomquist of The Record, and John McGowan of the Courier-Post also served as panelists.

Two and a half weeks later, the candidates met again, this time at the WPVI studio in Trenton. Jim Gardner of WPVI and Bill Beutel of WABC served as moderators, with Jo Astrid Glading of the Associated Press and Sal Paolantonio of the Philadelphia Inquirer joining as panelists. The ground rules for that debate as well as a sketch of the planned stage provide an interesting look at the preparations that go into a gubernatorial debate.

The documents are a reminder that, even though much has changed in politics in recent years, many of the institutions and practices—including the tradition of televised one-on-one debates about the campaign’s key issues—remain.


Stage plan for the second gubernatorial debate in the 1989 campaign

This year, both Democratic nominee Phil Murphy and Republican nominee Kim Guadagno have applied and qualified for matching funds in New Jersey’s public funding system. As a result, each is required to participate in at least two debates. The first is Tuesday, October 10, at 7 p.m. at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. It will be televised live on ABC New York, PVI Philadelphia, and Univision. It will also stream online at and

The second gubernatorial debate will be on Wednesday, October 18, at 7 p.m. at William Paterson University. It will be televised by WCBS-TV New York and KYW-TV Philadelphia. It will also be simulcast on radio on WCBS, WINS, and KYW radio and streamed on Facebook live and

The candidates’ running mates—Sheila Oliver (D) and Carlos Rendo (R)—will participate in their own debate on October 16. That debate will be broadcast on television and the internet by NJTV.


 -Kristoffer Shields