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Worried Democratic Legislators Back Away from Buono

Buono has cut Christie’s lead in the governor’s race from 40 points in some January polls to 30 points in June to just 20 points in the most recent Monmouth University Poll. But most of the shrinkage in Christie’s lead is due to Democrats enamored of Christie’s leadership during superstorm Sandy “coming home” to the party, Murray said.

Independents are more likely to agree with Buono on issues like gun control, gay marriage and funding for Planned Parenthood, Murray said, “but they like Christie personally and they credit him with getting things done.” Polls consistently show that the state’s independent voters want to reelect Christie, but they would prefer to keep a Democratic-controlled Legislature as a restraint on Christie policies they may disagree with.

Both independents as a group and New Jersey voters as a whole, consistently tell pollsters they want elected officials from both parties to work together to solve problems -- which Christie and Sweeney say they have done, in stark contrast to the partisan stalemate in Washington between President Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives that threatens to lead to a federal government shutdown October 1.

It is those independent voters that are being targeted in web ads by Benson, Gordon, and Van Drew that Democratic political operatives released last week.

“You could expect ads like this from Senators Van Drew or Sweeney or [Jim] Whelan,” Murray said, referring to the Atlantic County senator who, like Sweeney and Van Drew, broke ranks with the majority of Democratic legislators to pass the pension and health benefits law that is Christie’s proudest bipartisan accomplishment. “But you would not expect ads like that from Democratic legislators in the 14th and 38th districts who stood up to Christie, he said.”

Murray said Greenstein is “the one senator in a contested district who could probably still run an opposition campaign against Christie and not have to worry” because her 14th District contains more public employees than any of the other 39 legislative districts. But the polls show that Buono is not carrying public employees by the overwhelming majorities that political experts expected, which is one reason that Greenstein’s running mate, Dan Benson, is running pro-Christie ads.

Gordon’s efforts to stress his cooperation with Christie in passing balanced budgets -- an empty claim because New Jersey’s budgets constitutionally have to be balanced -- and enacting business tax cuts three years ago, represents a clear recognition not only that Christie is going to carry his Bergen County 38th District, but also that the most politically competitive district in the state is going to be more competitive this year than it was in 2011.

Running against Republican Freeholder-Director John Driscoll, “Gordon was able to pin the failure of Xanadu on his opponent,” Murray noted, referring to the hulking, unfinished megamall at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. “He doesn’t have that issue this time.” In addition to the 38th District, Christie is expected to carry Van Drew’s 1st District covering Cape May and Cumberland counties, Whelan’s Atlantic County-dominated 2nd District, and Sweeney’s Gloucester County-based 3rd District.

However, Christie has yet to target legislators in these districts, all of whom were allied with him on the key pension and health benefits vote with the exception of Assemblyman Nelson Albano, a 1st District lawmaker who is embroiled in an ethics controversy over his efforts to circumvent a State Police stop for speeding.

It remains an open question whether Christie is willing to invest his political capital in attempting to win seats in South Jersey, the principal source of the “bipartisan cooperation” he stresses in his national political speeches, that Norcross and Sweeney are determined to protect at any cost.

The governor is more likely to continue going after Gordon in a Bergen County race he feels he can win, and to put an extra effort into Middlesex County’s 18th District. The 18th, Murray said, is another district Christie could very well carry and its Senate seat was vacated by Buono when she decided to run for governor. Incumbent Assemblyman Peter Barnes is running for Buono’s Senate seat atop the Democratic ticket against David Stahl, the current East Brunswick mayor who switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

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