TRENTON – When gubernatorial hopeful Barbara Buono entered a union hall blocks from the Statehouse Wednesday she came prepared with stories of being “the daughter of a union butcher” who’s fighting to unseat an incumbent governor who she says talks about unions like they’re “the problem.”
Her stump speech garnered some cheers and scattered applause from the union crowd who appeared eager to have a change in leadership in Trenton.
But the campaign stop highlighted a lingering obstacle for the Democratic hopeful in the form of a statement from one of the attendees who said to Buono with a tinge of frustration in her voice that, in effect, “We don’t know enough about you.”
The problem for Buono is that name ID and campaign fundraising are often intertwined.
With Gov. Chris Christie having raised to date nearly $12 million, which includes state matching dollars, to her submission of about $650,000 for matching funds, Buono conceded the difficulties of being visible to voters when running for office in a state that lands in between two of the most expensive television markets in the country.
“I’m not a candidate of the bosses,” she said, calling out the Democratic heavy hitter and Essex County executive, Joseph DiVincenzo, by name.
“I stand up for what I believe in [and] no one controls me,” boasted Buono, adding she’s relying on the grassroots support and donations from working-class families since “there are political bosses in New Jersey that will not support” her.
“We believe we will be competitive,” Buono told local members of the Communications Workers of America. “But I need you there with me.”
But so far, the divergence from relying on the “traditional benefactors of New Jersey gubernatorial elections,” as Buono put it, has landed her at a roughly 20 to 1 fundraising gap.
Buono’s reliance on grassroots fundraising resulted in her enlisting the help of others, including Democratic Govs. Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, as well as asking supporters to donate $5 online.
The state lawmaker is also dialing supporters on the phone and seeking donations of a couple of hundred dollars, a tactic that was highlighted when The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Buono inadvertently called on the Republican chairman of Passaic County to thank him for his donation and request additional dollars.
Meanwhile, Christie’s campaign has hauled in maximum contributions from all over the country.
And what’s more, Buono’s first submission for matching dollars has yet to be awarded by the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
“We’re 60 days out,” Buono said. “We’ve applied to ELEC and the documentation and validating whatever it is they need to validate takes some time. That’s really all there is to it.”
When pressed to discuss conversations between her campaign treasurer and ELEC on reasons for the delay, Buono said she is not focusing on that aspect of the campaign.
“I honestly don’t get involved with that, that kind of micromanaging is a distraction from the campaign,” she said.
And so the plea from Buono to the traditional Democratic base in New Jersey that they get involved with her campaign, donate and tell their friends about the state senator’s message will continue be the senator’s focus over the next two months, she said.
“I’m focusing on raising money from all avenues, all walks of life, and I’m not focused on the traditional benefactors of New Jersey gubernatorial elections,” Buono said.
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"Enlisting Fox is another reminder of how much Christie has truly relied on insiders, including Democrats, to bolster his agenda or bail him out of trouble. Not long after arriving in Trenton in 2009, Christie began collaborating with George Norcross, the deeply entrenched Democratic Party kingmaker, to help him cut deals with a Democratic-controlled Legislature.
When his close ally David Samson resigned as chairman of the Port Authority over conflict-of-interest questions earlier this year, Christie replaced Samson with John Degnan, a pillar of the Democratic Party establishment. And now, confronted with a crisis, Christie has turned to “Jamie,’’ as Fox has been known throughout political circles since he began as an aide in the Democratic Senate in the 1980s." - columnist Charles Stile
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