News Column

Christie Building Broad Base With Dem Endorsements

June 12, 2013
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (file photo)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (file photo)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's campaign appears to be working hard to create a sense of inevitability around his re-election by aggressively seeking endorsements from influential Democrats as he looks beyond November and positions himself for a possible presidential bid in 2016.

On Tuesday, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo became the latest New Jersey Democrat to cross party lines and publicly declare his support for Christie's re-election bid. Christie has been endorsed by 26 Democratic officials as he seeks to overwhelm his opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, in November.

On one level, the endorsements are intended to demonstrate that Christie, a Republican, is capable of rising above the partisan fray in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by around 700,000. But political scientists say they also are being carefully stage-managed to send a message beyond New Jersey that the governor's race essentially has already been won.

"When you've created an illusion of inevitability, you're bound to attract people from both sides of the aisle," said Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. "Everybody wants to go to a victory party."

A Quinnipiac Poll released Monday showed Christie comfortably ahead of Buono, 59 percent to 29 percent, reflecting a slight increase from the 58 percent support for Christie reflected in the institute's April survey.

Yet while Christie appears to be on his way to a second term, Baker said the governor clearly understands that a decisive win in a so-called blue state will show Republicans nationally that he would be a formidable presidential contender in 2016.

"I don't think there's any question about it," he said. "I think he really wants to run up the score."

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said Christie may simply have been playing mind games with Buono when he picked up endorsements from Democratic mayors early in the campaign. But DiVincenzo's endorsement _ alongside those of five Democratic Essex County mayors and a dozen black clergy members _ came a day after Democratic state Sen. Brian Stack staged a rally for Christie in Union City, where he also serves as mayor. Taken together, the endorsements represent a level of support that Murray said is truly significant.

"We're beyond mind games; this is for real," Murray said. "The message is sent that the Democrats are staying home on this governor's race if they're not coming out for Christie."

Buono's campaign, which has downplayed the significance of Christie's Democratic endorsements, issued a statement Tuesday attacking the governor's record when asked about his campaign appearance in Essex County. Buono has one Republican endorsement, from Mayor Nick Poliseno of Spotswood.

"New Jersey cannot afford another four years of Governor Christie's terrible economic policies that favor the wealthy over working- and middle-class families," a Buono spokesman, David Turner, said in the statement. "On Election Day, New Jerseyans will support Senator Buono's vision for a New Jersey where everyone can receive a quality education and find a good-paying job."

By trying to present himself as a politician who is in some ways above politics, Christie is taking a cue from another Republican with a budding national profile who managed to win a decisive victory on heavily Democratic turf.

In 1997, when Rudy Giuliani ran for a second term as mayor of New York City against Ruth Messinger, then the Manhattan borough president, he approached the race as a non-partisan contest and self-consciously sought to distance himself from the Republican Party to woo Democratic voters, 40 percent of whom ended up casting ballots for him. He also courted the endorsements of influential Democrats, such as Nathan Leventhal, the president of Lincoln Center.

Christie has drawn comparisons to Giuliani before _ both are former prosecutors with a confrontational style who delivered keynote addresses at the Republican National Convention. But Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said he thinks New Jersey's governor is trading on an outsized personality that is uniquely his.

"Christie is incredible; he takes all the air out of a room," Carroll said. "You can say, yeah he's like Giuliani. I think he's like himself. He's just an incredible piece of work."

Appearing with Christie at McLoone's Boathouse in West Orange on Tuesday, DiVincenzo said he is not concerned that his endorsement of Christie would jeopardize efforts to keep Republicans from taking control of either the state Senate or Assembly. All 120 legislative seats will be on the November ballot.

"I support the governor, I support us also having a Democratic majority in the Senate and the Assembly and I believe we're going to win and we're going to win big," DiVincenzo said.

Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura; the Democratic mayors of Belleville, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Livingston and the City of Orange; a dozen African-American clergy members; and the Veterans Council of Essex County also backed Christie at McLoone's on Tuesday.

Carroll said he was surprised by the number of Democrats who publicly declared their support for Christie on Tuesday.

"This is a tidal wave," he said. "The magnitude of it frankly surprises me. The idea that Christie is a force of nature in New Jersey, that he dominates, that he owns the damn place is not surprising. But the magnitude of this _ Democratic leaders are not supposed to come out for a Republican governor."


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Source: Copyright Record (Hackensack, NJ) 2013

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