By RITA WANG, political columnist
“I really just want to see the two of them stand next to each other,” sophomore Carolyn Cai said, referring to the juxtaposition of physiques of the two major New Jersey gubernatorial candidates this year. It is true that Chris Christie has a large frame and is very tall while Barbara Buono has a small stature and is quite petite. The more important difference, however, is the one between their political beliefs: Christie is a moderate-to-conservative Republican while Buono is a progressive Democrat. While many Americans may already be tired of politics after the 2012 election, for the citizens of New Jersey, the voting is not over yet. This year, they will decide whether or not to reelect Chris Christie as governor or choose Barbara Buono as the new leader of the State of New Jersey. When one compares these two candidates side-by-side, one thing is clear: Buono is clearly the right person to elect.
Buono is no stranger to the denizens of Middlesex County. She has represented our Edison legislative district for over twenty years as both a senator and as an assemblywoman in the New Jersey Legislature. In addition to her public service, Senator Buono has been involved in numerous activities that benefit average citizens, especially students. Most notably, Senator Buono runs the Young Woman’s Leadership Program, designed to encourage young women in New Jersey to become involved in politics and public service. A common guest speaker at public schools, Buono loves talking to middle school and high school students about current political issues at the state level. Just this past December, Ms. Buono visited our own JP to speak to students participating in the JP Stevens Model United Nations conference.
Considering everything Buono has done for Middlesex County and New Jersey, it is fair to say she is a prime candidate for the governorship. Not only is she more than qualified due to her past political experience, but she is also the very embodiment of the American Dream. Because her immigrant father passed away when she was a teenager, Buono had to pay for college herself. She believes that she can fight for the middle and lower classes since she herself was once a food stamp recipient and therefore understands the struggle of poverty. Despite her impoverished upbringing and underprivileged early adulthood, Barbara Buono has had a successful political career, culminating in her becoming New Jersey’s first female Senate Majority Leader. Her reputation in New Jersey is well earned; many news outlets describe her as a smart, driven legislator and a strong supporter of LGBT, women’s, and other groups’ rights.
However, Buono is presently the underdog in terms of polls, campaign finances, and name recognition. Many Democrats decided not to challenge Christie this year because of his approval ratings, which, at the time of writing, is 63%. The path to election may seem daunting, but the Buono camp has a very positive outlook for November. “The numbers are going to go down,” Craig Miller, the head of Buono’s field team, stated. “In fact, we’re going to beat Christie this year; I can feel it. The numbers are already going down.” And it is true; poll numbers have gone down from a forty-five point difference between Christie and Buono in early January to a thirty-two point difference in May.
Chris Christie’s national popularity aside, Buono does have an edge. First of all, New Jersey is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. We tend to vote for Democrats during elections, and a lot of New Jersey is very progressive and very liberal. Also, Buono is highly confident that by tackling “pocketbook issues,” she will emerge victorious, especially considering her experience as chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. Her campaign committee cites the fact that despite Christie’s efforts, New Jersey has been last in terms of job growth when compared to other states since Obama took office earlier this year. Chris Christie has also cut funding to public education across the state, causing many schools to experience financial difficulties that oftentimes hurt both teachers and students. And in one of his most controversial budget changes, Christie raised property taxes in New Jersey by eliminating the state’s rebate program. Buono could use any of these mistakes as political ammunition against her opponent. She should also appeal to New Jersey’s pro-choice constituents; Barbara Buono is recommended by EMILY’S List, an organization committed to electing pro-choice women into office, while Chris Christie has closed down many women’s health facilities during his term.
At this time, there is only one female Democratic Governor in the entire United States: Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. POLITICO commented that Buono’s victory in 2013 may make her a contender for Hillary Clinton’s presidential successor in 2020 or 2024, provided Clinton runs for president and is elected in 2016. But before they even begin to set their sights on the distant future, voters must focus on the present and recognize an indisputable need for more female governors in the United States, as only five out of the fifty states are currently governed by women.
While Barbara Buono does not have nearly enough name recognition at the moment, she is a state senator from a crucial swing county with credentials that tremendously appeal to New Jersey’s liberal base. These factors may be decisive during the upcoming election, but for now, only time will tell. Yet despite the uncertainties surrounding the outcome, one thing is crystal clear: all eyes will be on New Jersey’s gubernatorial race.