TRENTON — Sen. Barbara Buono’s fledgling campaign for New Jersey governor gained attention this week with a major endorsement and tentative blessing from the state’s most influential Democrat.

Monmouth County Democrats sought to break the party’s logjam over picking a gubernatorial candidate to challenge Gov. Chris Christie in November by endorsing Buono, the only major Democrat in the race, so far. Meanwhile, frustration with the continuing intra-party chaos was evident, as Democratic kingmaker George Norcross III told “in the absence of anyone else, the party ought to rally around (Buono) and move forward.”

That’s parlance for mounting aggressive campaigns in competitive, Democrat-held legislative and county races, which Democrats fear could be jeopardized by a very strong Christie showing.

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The party has been scrambling for a candidate since Newark Mayor Cory Booker decided in December not to run. Buono was already in the race, but she’s not the first choice of the party establishment, including Norcross, who have been searching unsuccessfully for an alternative.

Norcross told the website he doesn’t think Sen. Dick Codey, a former acting governor who some believe would make a stronger candidate against Christie, has the courage to enter the race. Codey said his decision rests on securing $45 million in financial commitments and national labor endorsements, which he’ll seek in a series of meetings Tuesday in Washington.

“What’s happening is she’s become the de facto front-runner,” said political analyst Patrick Murray of Monmouth University, “but there’s not a lot of enthusiasm there right now.”

Trepidation wasn’t evident Thursday, when the 59-year-old Metuchen senator traveled to Wall Township to receive the Monmouth County Democrats’ endorsement.

During the event at the IBEW Local 400 union hall, Buono was referred to as “the next governor of the State of New Jersey,” and support was pledged by 70 local and elected political leaders from the state’s fourth-largest county. Democrats from at least two other counties were on hand to watch.

“We’re not going to wait to be told what to do,” said Vin Gopal, chairman of the Monmouth County Democrats. “We endorsed Barbara Buono because it’s the right thing to do.”

Codey said nothing has changed because of what Norcross said about him, including their not-so-secret deep dislike for one another.

“I don’t really care what Mr. Norcross thinks,” said Codey, “I never had a plan to run with his endorsement.”

Some people who are watching the race develop believe that Norcross effectively took Codey out of the race with his tepid support of Buono, but others think the barbs were intended to goad Codey into running.

Norcross, who in the article indicated he had lost patience with what he labeled as Codey’s attention-grabbing holdout, was unavailable for comment.

In the end, his intent won’t matter if Buono remains the only candidate vying for the party’s nomination.


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