As Gov. Chris Christie continues to rake in campaign donations even as his challenger struggles to find donors, the possibility continues to grow that Christie will participate in the state's matching funds program for the general election cycle.
Christie, who decided to forego matching funds for the primary campaign, is already 75 percent of the way to the threshold for receiving the state's maximum match, and could reach the $4.2 million limit by mid-August should he make the decision to take state funds.
The deadline to make the decision falls in early September, but it's likely Christie would make his decision before then.
And while he draws money from all corners of the country, his Democratic opponent, State Sen. Barbara Buono, has missed the first three filing deadlines to qualify for matching funds in the general campaign. The fourth deadline is tomorrow when Buono must submit donations of at least $380,000 to qualify.
Christie already had a nearly 3 to 1 fundraising edge over Buono in the primary and should he decide to accept matching funds - a sharp diversion from initial expectations - he could find himself with nearly $13 million in the bank come Sept. 1 and no more fundraising to do.
The upside to participating would be the time savings. Christie could forego fundraising stops for the final two months of the campaign, and instead focus on retail campaigning, even as Buono continues to struggle to find money.
Initial thoughts were Christie has the capacity to raise as much as $20 million on his own, with another $20-$25 million expected to come from outside groups. Why limit himself, conventional wisdom held, to the state financed limit of $13 million?
But with the Republican consistently polling ahead by no less than 30 points and Buono failing to reach the threshold in the primary, $13 million may be all he needs.
Christie can also count on an influx of outside cash flowing into the state should the polls become close sometime after Sept. 1 He's already received $1.7 million in support from the Republican Governors Association and it's likely money from the RGA and others will continue to flow.
The downside to accepting state funds is the perception. With spending in New Jersey near an all-time high, conservatives nationwide may view Christie's decision as an abandonment of small government principles, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"It’s easy to see how a conservative challenger would use (it) against Christie in GOP primaries," Sabato said. "Taxpayer funding of campaigns has become very unpopular on the right, though loads of conservative presidential candidates have taken public money over the years, including Ronald Reagan. Conservatives would also say Christie didn’t need it, he could have won without it, but he couldn’t resist spending tax dollars."
But if conservatives are wont to bash the governor, they already can point to 2009, when Christie took state funds for his campaign against Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine.
Also, should Christie accept state funds he must commit to at least two debates against Buono. It's highly unlikely Christie, a former prosecutor, fears a debate but he may be loathe to give Buono the face time.
Still, with Buono's fundraising struggles, the temptation will no doubt be there for Christie. To date, Buono has raised about $1.1 million in donations and has received another $1.8 million in state funds. her failure to submit any donations on the first three deadlines has some wondering just how bad her fundraising issues have gotten.
By contrast, Christie crisscrossed the country during the primary calling in chits and raising money from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg. In total, he raised more than $6 million for his all-but-uncontested primary - all of it from private donors - and in the process helped choke off support for Buono.
She failed to reach the full match in the primary campaign, the first major party nominee to do so.
Christie said today he is continuing to evaluate his fundraising efforts before deciding on a course of action for the general election. Sources say the campaign is looking closely at Buono as well to determine if the $13 million he'd gain from the state program is enough to achieve the convincing victory he's looking for.
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