By John Celock
The Democrat who lost in a landslide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) last year is reemerging in Garden State politics, backing a long time ally while taking a hit at her opponents.
Former state Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) has released a robocall on behalf of Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) in her congressional bid in the central part of the state. Watson Coleman, a former Assembly majority leader, is locked in a competitive three-way Democratic primary against state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) and Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Franklin Township) for the seat of retiring Rep. Rush Holt (D).
Buono uses the call to outline Watson Coleman’s progressive credentials, including her support for pay equity, Medicare, Social Security and gun control measures. She also says that the long time assemblywoman will fight the Tea Party while in Congress. Buono also uses the call to highlight that Watson Coleman backed her when many Democrats did not.
“When I ran for governor in 2013, I had a close group of friends that stood up with me against Chris Christie when many wouldn’t,” Buono says in the call. “Through thick and thin, one of my closest allies and fiercest advocates in that fight was my friend, Bonnie Watson Coleman.”
Buono’s 2013 gubernatorial effort was marked by over 60 Democratic elected officials in the state endorsing Christie, including some of the most powerful Democrats in the state. In addition, Buono faced an uphill battle to unite the party behind her, with many top Democrats engaging in prolonged search for an alternative to the largely independent Buono. Buono also saw Democrats fight back at her initial pick for state Democratic Party chairman and received little support from national Democratic groups who focused on the competitive gubernatorial race in Virginia.
Buono lost to Christie by 22 points and used her concession speech to blast many Democrats, calling it an “onslaught of betrayal.” She noted the state chairman episode, where she accepted a compromise candidate in an effort to unite the party.
“And so I took one for the team,” Buono said in her concession speech. “The only problem — I realized too late. There was no team.”
Watson Coleman, a former state Democratic Party chairwoman, was chairwoman of Buono’s campaign last year. Buono is repaying the favor, serving as a co-chairwoman of Watson Coleman’s campaign this year. Buono’s running mate for lieutenant governor, union leader Milly Silva, is also a top Watson Coleman supporter.
Holt’s retirement in the Democratic district has set off a fierce campaign between Watson Coleman, Greenstein and Chivukula. In a race capitalizing on New Jersey’s system of providing powerful tools to county party organizations, the race at times has boiled down to a geographical battle in the four county district, while the three also try to establish themselves as the progressive choice.
Greenstein, who has won three competitive races for her Senate seat in a swing district in the last four years, has picked up backing from her home base in Middlesex County. Chivukula, who lost a 2012 congressional run in a neighboring district, is being backed by his home county of Somerset. Watson Coleman has backing her home of Mercer County, also backing from Democrats in Union County. With Mercer and Middlesex dominating the district, many observers believe Watson Coleman and Greenstein are the frontrunners.
Last week, Chivukula did announce an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.).
The Democratic primary winner will face Republican physician Alieta Eck in November. Last year, Eck lost a bid for the Republican nomination in New Jersey’s special U.S. Senate election.