New Jersey governor candidates debate fruit, vegetables - and taxes

If Republican Kim Guadagno wins New Jersey’s gubernatorial election on Nov. 7, she may have Jersey tomatoes and cranberries to thank.

In “lightning round” questioning Wednesday during the candidates’ second and final televised debate before voters head to the polls, Guadagno and Democrat Phil Murphy were asked to name their favorite fruit and vegetable.

It seemed a softball question, but Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs banker -- and ex-U.S. ambassador to Germany, appointed by President Barack Obama -- briefly struggled to answer before finally responding with grapefruit and broccoli.

Guadagno, however, seized an opportunity to remind voters that she knew which agricultural products were more important to the Garden State’s economy. She answered with Jersey tomatoes and cranberries. (New Jersey ranks among the top states in production of both.)

The exchange may have aided Guadagno’s efforts to portray Murphy as a wealthy carpetbagger – and the latest in a string of Goldman Sachs executives who’ve sought to influence the state’s politics.

Guadagno, the state’s current lieutenant governor, may need the help. A recent Fox News Poll poll showed her trailing Murphy by 14 points.

Earlier in Wednesday’s debate, at William Paterson University, the two candidates clashed over how to address the state's property tax, and walloped each other on the GOP's handling of the state's economy and the Democratic candidate's plan to pay for his promises.

Their faceoff came a day before former President Barack Obama was scheduled to campaign with Murphy in Newark.

New Jersey's property taxes — the country's highest — took center stage for much of the night.

Murphy called Guadagno's plan to cap a portion residents' property taxes at 5 percent of income a "gimmick." Guadagno said her plan could save voters an average of $800 annually.

A memorable exchange unfolded after Guadagno asked Murphy how he planned to pay for a number of promises he's made, including fully funding the state pension, increasing school aid and providing tuition-free community college.

Murphy began by saying that Guadagno wasn't using true figures in her cost estimates. Then a member of the audience shouted "Answer the question."

Murphy responded he couldn't hear what was said, so Guadagno repeated it for him. "Answer the question, was the shout," she said.

The moderators then cut off the conversation because of the interruptions, but Murphy responded with his own question.

"You've taken care of hedge funds, big corporations and the wealthiest among us," he said. "You've been at Chris Christie's side for 2,829 days. I'd like to know where have you been."

Guadagno said she's disagreed with the unpopular Republican governor in private, and attacked Murphy for how costly his promises are. He's estimated they'd require $1.3 billion in new revenues.

"All of these promises, all of these fantasies, all of these entitlements, it's going to come from your pocket," Guadagno said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.