Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Buono Framing Race around Gay Rights

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Buono Framing Race around Gay Rights

Article excerpt

Struggling with low name recognition and even lower poll numbers in her bid to unseat Governor Christie, Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono has found an issue on which she thinks the popular incumbent is vulnerable: outlawing attempts to "convert" children from gay to straight.

Buono recently signed on as co-sponsor of a bill that would do that, one that's garnered intense social media interest. And both her campaign and the national Democratic Governors Association used that bill to attack Christie and ask their supporters for donations. The governor's office responded to the criticism by issuing a statement on March 21 emphasizing that Christie opposes the practice, known as "conversion therapy."

But Christie, following a longstanding practice, said he would not take a position on the bill to outlaw it until the final version reaches his desk.

By highlighting this issue, Buono has drawn attention to her nascent candidacy and to her party's stands on gay rights and same- sex marriage at a time when those issues appear to be gaining support in a largely blue state. It also gives the largely unknown Democratic candidate from Middlesex County a platform to try to attract the backing of potential supporters from around the country.

Before conversion therapy became a political issue in New Jersey this month, Democratic lawmakers had criticized Christie for his stance on gay marriage. They say they will try to override his veto of their same-sex marriage bill before their term ends in January. Rather than signing that legislation, which the Legislature approved last year, Christie urged lawmakers to put the question to voters.

Now political analysts and some same-sex marriage opponents are saying Democrats are using the issue simply to attract attention and campaign cash.

After Buono raised the issue, Christie's office put out a statement stating flatly that he does not believe in conversion therapy. "There is no mistaking his point of view on this when you look at his own prior statements where he makes clear that people's sexual orientation is determined at birth," the statement said.

A survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute released Tuesday found that 64 percent support allowing gay marriage and 30 percent oppose it. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Buono needs to convince Democrats nationally that it is to their benefit to support her gubernatorial bid and give her the resources to attack Christie, who is considered a potential presidential contender in 2016, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

"These issues play to the Democratic base nationwide," Murray said. "Her best hope in raising money is to go to national Democrats and say that they need her to bloody up Chris Christie now before he gets into the 2016 race. …

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