Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Will Stay Clear of Senate Candidates

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Will Stay Clear of Senate Candidates

Article excerpt

Governor Christie had a clear, strategic incentive in choosing the August-to-October special U.S. Senate election to replace the late Frank Lautenberg.

But now that Republican voters have picked former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan as the Republican nominee and Newark Mayor Cory Booker as the Democratic standard-bearer, Christie has every incentive to stay as far from the contest as possible.

That reality underscores an unexpected irony. By setting Tuesday's primary and the general election for Oct. 16, Christie was picking a relatively risk-free path to his reelection on Nov. 5, when he faces Democratic challenger Barbara Buono the state senator from Middlesex County.

He was removing the threat of running on the same ballot with Booker, a possibility that could drive Democratic turnout with Booker's star power and cash. But instead of coasting to Nov. 5, Christie, will have to tap-dance around a new set of dangers and challenges.

Lonegan, the tart-tongued Tea Party favorite, is foremost among them. Although Christie and his allies cleared the field for Lonegan's candidacy, and the governor is expected to officially endorse him, Christie will need to steer clear.

But Buono and her Democratic allies now have a colorful and unapologetic in-the-flesh Jersey conservative to help make their case against Christie. Buono will cast Christie as Lonegan's enabler, despite their sharp differences.

Obamacare foe

Lonegan, a staunch conservative with a libertarian streak, opposes the expansion of government surveillance programs, vows to dismantle President Obama's health care reforms and opposes most government spending, including federal relief for Superstorm Sandy.

Christie is a more pragmatic conservative, who supports retaining government surveillance programs, agreed to expanded Medicaid coverage, a key component of the Obama health care plan, and vigorously lobbied for Sandy aid.

But under pressure to convince national Democrats that her campaign is worth a hefty investment, Buono will cast the two as ideological twins.

"It will be called the Lonegan-Christie ticket," said Benjamin Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute of Politics at Rider University.

It's fair game, they will argue, because Christie did nothing to prevent a Tea Party-favored candidate from becoming the face of the Republican Party in New Jersey, he said.

David Turner, Buono's spokesman, confirmed that approach.

"He's going to have to explain his rationale for endorsing Steve Lonegan," he said. "And we will hold him accountable for that."

The tactic is not likely to threaten Christie's chances of winning -- he holds a 30-point lead in most polls.

But a sustained Buono assault, fed by Lonegan's sharp barbs at Booker, could undermine Christie's hopes of scoring the kind of blowout victory that would enshrine him as a front-runner for the party's presidential nomination in 2016. …

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