New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he’ll work as hard as he ever has if he’s re-elected, while Democratic challenger Barbara Buono said he has allied himself with political bosses and left small businesses behind, as the two held their final debate in a lopsided race last night.
Christie, a prospective 2016 presidential contender, and Buono also jabbed at each other over spending, the partial U.S. government shutdown and Hurricane Sandy. The Democrat accused the governor of funding boardwalk rebuilding along the shore and overlooking homeowners who were devastated by the Oct. 29 storm.
“This is the last political campaign that I’ll ever run in New Jersey,” Christie, 51, said near the end of the 90-minute debate at Montclair State University. “I ask the people of New Jersey to give me another four years to build upon the successes we’ve had in the last four.”
In their debate last week, Christie brushed off questions about whether he would run for the White House if re-elected and said he wouldn’t let his future plans interfere with doing his job in a second term. Last night, he said he didn’t know what the future might hold for him or the state, and pledged to work as diligently as he has since taking office if re-elected.
“I‘m not bothered by the fact that he’s running” for the White House, Buono said, repeating a line she used last week about the governor. “I’m bothered by how he’s running.” She then reeled off actions she said were designed to appeal to the right flank of the Republican party, such as vetoing a gun-control bill and blocking same-sex marriage.
“I’m only going to answer to one entity and that’s all of you,” Buono, a 60-year-old state senator from Metuchen, said to the audience. “I’m tough. I got to this position without anyone handing it to me and I’m doing it for the right reasons. I’m here for the middle class and the working poor and I’m not here to serve the narrow interests of any political bosses.”
Christie, who has worked with Democratic Party leaders to advance several legislative initiatives, denied those relationships were improper and said they’ve helped him in his first term. Buono criticized his tactics as the type of backroom New Jersey politics that have hampered the state for decades.
The governor shot back that Buono had allied herself with a former Middlesex County sheriff, Joseph Spicuzzo, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges earlier this year.
Buono said she has run her political career as an outsider and said she won’t be swayed by bosses of either party.
“I am the underdog -- I am the little guy and I’m fine with that,” Buono said. “I embrace it and I’ve fought my entire life for the underdog and little guys.”
Christie said working with Democratic leaders has allowed him to curb growth in property taxes, reduce state pension costs and balance four budgets without raising taxes.
“All that work has been bipartisan and I’m proud of that record,” Christie said. He also said those alliances helped him “run the government in a way that’s more effective and efficient.”
Christie, the only U.S. governor seeking re-election this year, has a wide lead over Buono in fundraising and in voter surveys. He has brought in $6 for every $1 she’s collected, while the most recent polls showed him ahead by about 30 percentage points. A landslide win in a Democratic stronghold may give him a launching pad for a presidential bid.
Buono, a one-time Senate leader, emerged as her party’s choice to take on Christie after more-popular Democrats, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker, chose not to challenge him. Booker instead is seeking a U.S. Senate seat in a special election today to fill the opening left by the June death of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, an 89-year-old Democrat.
Brigid Harrison, who teaches law and government at Montclair State and was a debate panelist, said Buono came across as more confident than she had in last week’s meeting.
“It was almost like someone who had nothing left to lose so she just let it go,” Harrison said in an interview. “There are so few undecided voters left that I think if anything it shored up her support among the Democratic base. But at this point, I don’t think it will do anything to significantly change the poll numbers.”
She said the governor also did well in the confrontation.
Christie led Buono 62 percent to 33 percent in an Oct. 10 poll by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University. The Oct. 5-7 telephone survey of 1,144 likely voters, with a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points, showed 59 percent of women backed the governor along with 28 percent of Democrats.