Senate President Stephen Sweeney, New Jersey’s highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker, said he won’t challenge Governor Chris Christie’s re-election bid this year.
The decision by Sweeney, who is from West Deptford, leaves Senator Barbara Buono of Metuchen as the party’s only declared candidate. Christie, a 50-year-old Republican enjoying record approval ratings for his response to Hurricane Sandy, has dominated potential challengers in polling.
“After careful consideration and much deliberation, I will not be a candidate for governor in 2013,” Sweeney said in a statement today. “I’ve decided my work now needs to be focused on ensuring the legislature remains in Democratic control.”
Christie, the first Republican elected New Jersey governor since 1997, said on Nov. 26 he will seek a second term to oversee the $36.9 billion job of rebuilding. All 120 seats in the Senate and Assembly are also open in November.
The governor’s approval rating reached a high of 74 percent in a Jan. 23 poll by Quinnipiac University. He led possible Democratic challengers by margins of at least 2-1.
The governor beat Sweeney 61 percent to 25 percent and Buono 63 percent to 22 percent. The closest challenger was Senator Richard Codey, who was acting governor for 14 months after James McGreevey resigned in 2004 amid a sex scandal. Christie led Codey 59 percent to 30 percent the poll found.
Codey said on Jan. 25 that he wouldn’t run because of concerns about the impact of a campaign on his family life.
“I will enthusiastically back whomever the nominee is and do all that I can in support,” Codey said in a statement.
Buono, 59, an attorney, has scheduled a noon press conference at a Trenton hotel to announce a “major endorsement” from a New Jersey political leader. She raised $212,927 for her election through December, while Christie raised $2.1 million, according to campaign-finance reports.
Sweeney’s decision shows Democrats have conceded the governor’s race to Christie and will concentrate on shoring up legislative majorities rather than challenging Buono, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
“Nobody think’s she’s going to win,” Murray said in a telephone interview. “It’s an indication that most of the power-brokers have pulled out of the governor’s race and are putting all of their resources into protecting seats in their own backyards.”