The Campaign Spot

New Jersey Democrats Want New Options Against Christie

At this point, the lone Democrat running against Chris Christie in New Jersey’s 2013 governor’s race is state senator Barbara Buono of Metuchen — a relatively little-known state lawmaker, who begins about 40 points behind the GOP incumbent.

Now there’s word that New Jersey Democrats are so worried about their prospects against Christie that longtime rivals are willing to contemplate a truce over it:

In his emerging role as the state Democrats’ chief recruiter, Senate President Stephen Sweeney dined with state Sen. Richard Codey last week to gauge the veteran lawmaker’s interest in running for governor, The Star-Ledger learned today.

The unlikely meeting between the bitter rivals from opposite ends of the state took place in New Brunswick, according to two sources familiar with the meeting who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Sweeney ousted Codey as Senate president in 2010, opening wounds that have yet to heal. Codey, who stepped in as governor for 14 months several years ago, is considering whether to seek a full term in the governor’s mansion this year, and so is Sweeney.

Sweeney has also reached out to U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8th) to gauge his interest in challenging state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) in a party primary and, if successful, the popular Gov. Chris Christie in November.

The efforts on the part of Sweeney underscore his concern about the ability of Buono — with whom he has also tangled — to put together a formidable campaign and protect Democratic legislative seats, particularly in competitive South Jersey legislative districts.

Yesterday, the country watched Christie attack House Republicans with relish. Currently on a polling high within the state (“off the charts”) and with a potentially weak rival in November, Christie may see a tantalizing opportunity for his personal political power and prestige, even if it damages his reputation among Republicans nationally: to win reelection by a wide margin through triangulation — as a Republican, but a Republican acceptable to many independents and Democrats because he’s not like those Republicans in Washington. It’s Clintonian triangulation brought to the Garden State.

Keep in mind that right now, Chris Christie is the highest-rated Republican nationally:

Of 814 registered voters surveyed, 55 percent who have heard of Christie viewed him favorably, while U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was seen favorably by 46 percent of the respondents, and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana by 45 percent.

Fifty-nine percent of Republicans, 52 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents surveyed from Dec. 10 to 16 by telephone and cellphone viewed him favorably.

While trashing House Republicans might irk some members of his party, Christie’s general disdain for the way Congress has operated in recent years isn’t likely to hurt him very much if indeed he has interests in running for president in 2016.

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