Barbara Buono campaign downplays Chris Christie’s Democratic endorsements

 N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, left, gets the endorsement of Essex County Executive Democrat Joe DiVincenzo on June 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, left, gets the endorsement of Essex County Executive Democrat Joe DiVincenzo on June 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

The Democratic tide continued to turn against Senator Barbara Buono on Wednesday when Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider became the 19th Democrat to publicly endorse Republican Governor Chris Christie.

The announcement from Schneider, who has endorsed both parties during his 23 years as mayor, rounds out a week-long endorsement spree for Christie by Democrats. On Monday, Union City Mayor and state Senator Brian Stack and his two Assembly running mates announced their public endorsement for Governor Christie, followed by Democratic heavyweight Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo’s endorsement on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Buono recently garnered her first and only Republican endorsement from Spotswood Mayor Nick Poliseno.

The recent endorsements have created (or perhaps exposed) rifts within the New Jersey Democratic Party. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg criticized fellow Democrats who have endorsed Christie, chastising them for departing from party ideals and suggesting that they be “excluded from our party political sessions”.

But should these endorsements serve as a litmus test for party allegiance? Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, argues that the Democratic endorsements simply illustrate the adage often used to describe New Jersey politics: the kid with the most toys is the most popular kid.

Electing a king

“New Jersey’s governorship is the most powerful governorship in the entire country,” Dworkin explained. In fact, it remained the only state-wide elected executive office in the state until 2009 when candidates for Lieutenant Governor were first added to the same ballot. This means that the New Jersey governor continues to wield great influence over policies, contracts, and position appointments. “With that kind of power, it is not uncommon to see partisanship fall by the wayside as elected officials on both sides of the aisle try to work to get things done,” Dworkin said. 

In other words, if you’re not nice to the governor, your phone calls won’t get returned.

Regardless of this week’s announcements, Dworkin insists that the biggest hurdle for Buono’s campaign remains the same: people still don’t know who she is. Dworkin sees this as a historically classic problem that plagues every state-wide New Jersey candidate on their first time up to bat, as proven by the initial losses endured by former New Jersey governors Tom Kean and Christine Todd Whitman. The only three exceptions prove the rule: Jon Corzine, who could afford to spend money on name recognition, former NBA star Bill Bradley, who was already known, and Chris Christie, who had built up a state-wide reputation as the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey.

Buono campaign undeterred

Still, morale in the Buono camp seems undampened by Democratic defections. Buono’s campaign spokesman David Turner said that the senator is focusing her efforts on encouraging a debate on where New Jersey is going.

“As people start paying more attention to the race and as we get closer to election day, you’ll find that a lot of New Jerseyans will realize who their choices are for governor and the differences between us and governor Christie, said Turner. “Buono has events all the time, going door to door, block by block, making sure people understand who she is and where she comes from.”

As for the disparity between the candidates’ across-the-aisle endorsements, Dworkin believes that it ultimately won’t make much of a difference to their campaigns. “The endorsement that Buono really wants, besides Obama, that will make a real difference is Bill Clinton and Hilary Clinton,” Dworkin insisted with a chuckle. “Now that’s an endorsement that’s gonna matter for her!”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal