New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s reelection win was undoubtedly a blowout, the likes of which the Garden State hasn’t seen since 1989. His smashing victory has been credited to his fiery attitude and his political positioning just to the right of center. But it also didn’t hurt that he was running against Barbara Buono, a far left candidate who fell out of the state party’s favor years ago. Though Christie will be praised for taking a blue state by storm, consider his opponent.
Few Democrats wanted to face Christie in the ring, and Buono seemed to earn no respect for trying. MSNBC called her “Dawn Quixote.”
She got little media attention—that is, until reporters uncapped their pens to point out that she was getting little media attention. The Bergen Record, a reliably liberal newspaper, barely even noted in endorsing Christie that he had an opponent, only mentioning Buono’s name six times in 837 words. Her greatest exposure likely came when Daily Show host Jon Stewart berated Christie for setting a special date for the U.S. Senate race, playing a three-second clip from one of Buono’s TV ads. The segment was meant to embarrass Christie by showing that he faced no threat. But it was Buono who deserved to be embarrassed: In the ad she repeatedly clarifies the pronunciation of her last name, contrasting it with Sonny Bono, Bono of U2, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
She might like to joke about her name, but her lack of name recognition at the end of October was particularly alarming. Forty percent of New Jersey voters knew nothing of her. Barbara Buono is well known among Trenton insiders and in her state senate district, and that’s about it.
Those who did get to know her, must not have liked what they found, even coming from an incredibly blue state. New Jerseyans don’t cared much for political extremists on either side of the aisle. They’re happy with moderate Republicans (see the two terms of Tom Kean Sr. and Christine Whitman) and wind up with buyer’s remorse when they elect liberals (see the one-and-done terms of Jim Florio and Jon Corzine).
Buono is in the latter camp, solidly left wing. She supports a bevy of liberal causes, including universal preschool, a millionaires tax, and raising the minimum wage. In the legislature, she pushed for bloated school funding and anti-bullying legislation.
To be her Lieutenant Governor and running mate, Buono chose union organizer Milly Silva, one of the Executive Vice Presidents of SEIU 1199, the healthcare workers union whose New England chapter has been accused of racketeering. Silva has never held political office. She didn’t even vote in the last few elections, and only registered as a Democrat in 2012.
It turns out that Buono probably needed a union activist on her ticket just to get labor’s attention. Although she received the obligatory endorsement from the state’s largest teachers union way back in March, you wouldn’t know it from looking at the NJEA’s website on Election Day. The latest item on Buono was an “open letter” she wrote to the NJEA–the links to which, depending on where you find it, lead either to a dead end or a member login page. This is the same teachers union that had a county chair once wish, in writing, that Chris Christie were dead.
The union’s Super PAC was the biggest outside spender in these elections, but it looks like most of that money went into state legislative races.
It would be an understatement to say that the Democrat establishment came up short in its support of Buono. Senator-elect Cory Booker lent her some support, but he also had his own campaign to run. And Stephen Sweeney, the New Jersey Senate president, only tepidly supported Buono, whom he beat in a Trenton power struggle two years ago.
Almost 50 Democratic elected officials backed Christie. Major Democrat power broker George Norcross sat the race out, and was recently seen arm in arm with the governor. National Democrats were likewise uninterested. On the Monday before election day, Buono complained to Slate‘s Dave Weigel that President Obama didn’t visit New Jersey to campaign on her behalf.
With essentially no one of consequence in her corner, Buono didn’t stand a chance. Christie earned the right to coast frightening off stronger potential challengers, such as Booker or Sweeny, leaving “Dawn Quixote” to stand alone. But Christie deserves about as much credit for defeating her as the windmills deserve for defeating Cervantes’s protagonist.