(CNN) – Cory Booker may have taken his diminished lead in the latest polls to heart, starting out on the offensive against Steve Lonegan in the first debate for New Jersey's Senate seat and never letting up.
Lonegan, who trails Booker by 12% and 13% in the most recent polls, returned the favor, blasting Booker's record as mayor of Newark while Booker in turn repeatedly painted Lonegan as a "tea party extremist."
With the special election two weeks away, Booker argued that Lonegan "keeps attacking my record," in order to distract from his own "extremist" affiliation with the tea party, with Lonegan in favor of things like a total abortion ban and an end to taxation of corporations.
For his part, Lonegan argued that Booker is essentially all show, lambasting Booker's celebrity status gained from friendship with major celebrities and his extensive adoption of social media.
"What New Jersey needs is a leader, not a tweeter," Lonegan said multiple times.
Booker has raised millions of dollars in the race with the help of political fundraisers visited by the likes of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. As of last month, Booker had raised $2.85 million in two months, reporting $2.63 million on hand. That's compared to a little over a million raised in the same period by Lonegan, who has $241,000 in the bank.
That celebrity status has enriched Booker personally, Lonegan said, at the cost of the people of the city of Newark.
"The only person in Newark getting wealthy is Mayor Cory Booker," Lonegan charged, speaking of Booker's speaking engagements as well as his former law practice, from which he has still gotten paid and that has done business with the city.
"This warrants being investigated," Lonegan said.
Booker avoided answering whether or not he would release his severance agreement with the law firm, instead focusing on the 15 years of tax returns he has released.
"I set a level of transparency," Booker said, "my opponent has not met."
Points of agreement between Booker and Lonegan, a businessman and former mayor of Bogota, New Jersey, were rare and came only at the end, on points like tighter controls on government surveillance.
Points of contention were far more common, with Lonegan maintaining a hardline view of personal liberty that includes limited government principles such as abolishing the Department of Education and dismantling the IRS "as we know it."
Booker in turn took predominantly liberal Democratic views, expanding education opportunities and loans and raising taxes slightly for America's most wealthy citizens.
In some areas Booker was short on specifics, praising Obamacare while avoiding giving any particular points that he would change in the law when asked.
Instead, Booker made the Affordable Care Act question all about Lonegan, who voiced strong opposition to the law. The tea party is willing to shut down the government over a law that has already been litigated, Booker charged.
"These are real people's lives," Booker said.
Despite Lonegan's attacks on Newark's crime rate, Booker was proud of his accomplishments as mayor, speaking constantly of his role putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the schools as well as bringing businesses to the city along with people.
"Believe the people of the state," Booker said.
"Newark's population is growing for the first time in 60 years."