Sen. Barbara Buono showed some offense in her campaign against Gov. Chris Christie the week before Labor Day, challenging his “Stronger than the Storm” ad campaign and redoubling her appeal to women, a majority of whom support the governor's re-election bid.
As Christie hit one shore town after another in the run-up to the three-day holiday, Buono unleashed a Web video featuring a couple who say they haven't recovered from Superstorm Sandy last fall. Their house has been stripped to its studs, and they have been stymied by government red tape while trying to get federal aid.
Buono says Christie “needs to explain why 10 months after Sandy people are still living in trailers.” Christie tells throngs who have been mobbing him on boardwalks: “When we say we're stronger than the storm, when we celebrate the reopening of these boardwalks ... it doesn't mean we think everything is done.”
The gubernatorial campaign begins in earnest this week, with Christie storming toward a second term. The Republican, whose popularity peaked after the megastorm, has said the chance to lead the state through Sandy's aftermath sealed his decision to run again, while Buono, a former Senate budget committee chairwoman, has the formidable task of trying to weaken him while convincing voters she would be a stronger chief executive.
In separate interviews with The Associated Press before Labor Day, Christie and Buono talked about how they see the campaign shaping up as voters return from vacation and begin focusing on the Nov. 5 election.
Buono, whose campaign has struggled to hit its stride, said she was encouraged by a recent poll showing Christie's lead had slipped by 7 percentage points since June. But the same poll shows Buono's standing hasn't risen and found Christie up by 24 percentage points.
Christie said the sizable lead will allow him to campaign in areas where he didn't do so well in in 2009, like Hudson County. A contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he said he hopes to win re-election with at least 50 percent of the vote. The state has 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans and 2.6 million unaffiliated voters who have not declared a party.
Buono said she's in it to win it and still believes she has a shot. Her biggest challenge will be raising enough money to be competitive.
Like Buono, Christie has opted into the state's public matching fund program for the race, which caps spending at around $12 million per candidate. Unlike Buono, Christie has already raised nearly the entire $4.22 million maximum for the 2-for-1 match.
Buono rolled out a platform on women's issues last week that includes support for raising the minimum wage and restoration of $7.5 million in funding for women's reproductive health clinics that Christie cut. The problem for Buono is the more effort spent trying to woo back a constituency she expected to have, the less time there will be for her to seek harder-to-get votes.