She hasn’t officially secured the Democratic nomination yet and the wheels are falling off State Senator Barbara Buono’s gubernatorial campaign.
Buono will be the nominee. Her only competition on the ballot is Troy Webster, an aide to East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser. Webster isn’t really running for governor. He agreed to through his hat in the ring on the same slate as Bowser for ballot positioning purposes in the primary.
But the wheels are falling off the Buono wagon. She can’t raise money. She defiantly divided the party and broke with the legislative leadership with her choice of State Democratic Chairman. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews dubbed her Dawn Quixote.
Buono is on track to be the first major party candidate not to qualify for state matching funds for her campaign. She named Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell her choice as State Chairman, against the advice of Senate President Steve Sweeney and over the objections of Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver. A prominent Monmouth County Democrat told MMM “Buono should never go on TV again,” after her appearance on Matthew’s Hardball.
Just when things couldn’t get any worse for Buono they did. Over the weekend former Democratic Governor Brendan Byrne, on a teleconference with former Republican Governor Tom Kean, told The Star Ledger that Buono should consider dropping out of the gubernatorial race.
GOV. BYRNE: Buono is way behind. I was way behind in 1977 and I was thinking, if it gets worse, I’m going to withdraw. It didn’t get worse. As a matter fact, it got better. But at one point I thought of dropping out in favor of a better-positioned candidate. I don’t know whether that consideration would appeal to Buono, but I would advise she make that evaluation.
Kean drove the point home.
GOV. KEAN: You were a good candidate. She’s not. The able candidates in the Democratic party all decided not to run this year, so they were left without a strong candidate. She stepped forward and now the party is living with the consequences of that. And they may be felt up and down the ticket.
No New Jersey Governor has completed two full terms since Byrne and Kean did it, back to back, from 1974 through 1990.
Byrne stuck the fork a little deeper into Buono in remarks to Star Ledger editor Tom Moran.
Byrne says that even if Buono were replaced, perhaps by a member of Congress, Christie would still be a heavy favorite. Byrne just wants to be sure Christie’s victory isn’t historic enough to give Republicans control of the Legislature, as well.
“It’s more about saving the undercard, finding someone who can come closer,” he said. “Barbara is a nice lady and I love her. But this is not the year for her.”
As she was with Sweeney and Oliver over the choice of party chairman, Buono is defiant. In a signal that she won’t drop out, she told Moran that she has always been underestimated and that Byrne would feel differently if he joined her on the campaign trail and saw how We The People are reacting to her. Buono hasn’t learned what every politician who has lost an election knows…voters lie. They are polite and encouraging when the meet you and then go vote for someone else or not at all. Real support is measured in money and reliable poll numbers.
Buono will not withdraw. She will go down in flames and take many incumbent legislators with her.
If Democratic leaders really want to dump Buono in order to avoid a down ballot slaughter, they should shift gears now and get Webster elected in the primary.
Webster will deal and resign the nomination in favor on a member of Congress as Byrne suggests. They would have to burn State Senator Nia Gill if they embrace Webster. Gill’s primary challenger Mark Alexander, a former Obama operative, is running on the Webster/Bowser slate in Essex County, but they might consider Gill a small price to pay to retain control of the legislature.
As we wrote in January, Congressman Frank Pallone should be the Democratic nominee. He would lose to Christie, but limit the down ballot bleeding. He would endear himself to party leaders throughout the state and better position himself for the prize he really wants, the U.S. Senate seat that is up for grabs in 2014 that everyone assumes already belongs to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Or, the Democratic leadership could stick with Buono on the top of the ticket and hope that the Trenton Republicans do their best not to win Democratic seats in the legislature and win control. That is a good bet too.