Barbara Buono misses opportunity to offer solutions

 (Cartoon by Rob Tornoe)

(Cartoon by Rob Tornoe)

Governor Chris Christie and his democratic opponent, State Sen. Barbara Buono, faced off in the first of two debates last night, and what did we learn?

That Christie likes Bruce Springsteen, and Buono enjoys a bit of Beyonce.

Yes, it was that kind of night. Kristine Johnson’s idiotic questions would have been out of place in a student council debate, but here they portended an evening where we learned nothing about Buono’s plans to fix the problems plaguing the Garden State. Given the state-wide media exposure the debate offered, it’s a missed opportunity of enormous proportions for a candidate who has had problems promoting herself to voters.

For the last couple of months, I’ve wondered why Buono isn’t really connecting with voters in a state that has 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans Thanks to last night’s debate, I think I’ve at least partially figured it out. Everything about her campaign is about Christie – blaming Christie, criticizing Christie, lambasting Christie. One thing the Governor doesn’t suffer from is a lack of exposure, so by focusing everything on our Superstorm Sandy spokesperson and not offering real ideas how to move New Jersey forward, Buono has completely undermined any shot she had at winning this election.

Take the issue of property taxes. I appreciate Buono finally taking Christie on during the debate, noting property taxes have risen dramatically largely due to cutting the relief program during his first year. But does Buono have any plan to fix them, other than dishing out middle class platitudes and assailing Christie’s record?

After all, the rebates were there in the 10 years before Christie became Governor, during which time property taxes rose 70 percent. At least Christie has put in place some common-sense items to slow the bleeding, like ending the ridiculous six-figure payout for retiring cops and firemen. And he can legitimately point to a dramatically lower rate of growth since putting spending caps in place.

Unfortunately for Buono, most of her obviously-rehearsed attack lines, designed for maximum media impact, fell flat. Democrats bristle when Christie associates Buono with Jon “I lost $2 billion” Corzine, but it’s almost laughable to hear her refer to Christie’s “Romney-style” economics. Her most effective moment was when she told Christie he needed to “man up” on taking responsibility for New Jersey’s woeful economy, but was undermined by not offering solutions of her own to grow jobs.

She also hurt herself by delivering a snarkly attack line when asked if she could name something she liked about Christie. Meanwhile, Christie praised her many years as a public servant and her role as a “good and caring mother.” Yes, Buono managed to make Christie look graceful.

It’s not as if Christie is unassailable. His economic record for New Jersey is terrible, his record on many social issues is abysmal and his deference to national Republicans on many issues rather than doing what’s in the best interest of New Jersey undermines his well-crafted veneer of authenticity.

So when given the opportunity to ask Christie a single question on any topic imaginable, what did Buono choose? Voting rights.

Ugh. Hopefully Democrats will be able to muster a better candidate in 2017. But looking at a bench filled with political players who were afraid to challenge Christie in the first place, that might be a lot to hope for.

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Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Check out more of his cartoons at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on Twitter @RobTornoe

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