Another of New Jersey’s best-known Democratic politicians announced Friday that he had decided not to run for governor against popular Republican incumbent Chris Christie.
State Sen. Richard Codey’s decision leaves just one prominent Democrat in the race, state Sen. Barbara Buono. With the election now just more than nine months away, time is dwindling for another major challenger to get in the race.
Codey said Christie’s strength was a factor, but that the main reason he’s not running is that he does not want to abandon his funeral business, especially as one of his sons, a college student, considers joining him.
Codey said that he lined up $20 million in promised donations over the past month, enough to kick-start a serious campaign. But he said there was one obstacle: Some of the money would not be delivered unless he made it a close race by early fall.
He said he believed he could have made it a real race, but is not sure how quickly he could tighten the gap in polls.
He pointed to a poll conducted before Hurricane Sandy hit that showed Christie ahead of him by only 6 points in a hypothetical matchup.
“The shine form Sandy obviously will wear off,” he said.
Codey said he would support the Democratic nominee, whomever it may be, and would seek re-election to his Senate seat representing a slice of Essex and Morris counties.
Codey, 66, has been in the state Legislature since 1973 and served as governor for 14 months after Jim McGreevey resigned in 2004. He received praise for steadying the state government during and after McGreevey’s scandal-ridden partial term, which ended with his announcement that he was gay and had had an affair with a male staffer.
Codey, who grew up above a funeral home and is also an insurance consultant, is known for his quick wit and Jersey-guy persona. He wrote a book called “Me, Governor?: My Life in the Rough-and-Tumble World of New Jersey Politics.” Although he was not elected to the job, he prefers to be addressed as “governor.”
An advocate for the downtrodden and the mentally ill, he’s gone undercover to examine conditions at a psychiatric hospital and conditions for the homeless.
He said he’s most proud that when he left the Governor’s Office in 2006, a poll found that 71 percent of New Jersey voters approved of the job he was doing — and that only 10 percent saw him negatively.
He has fallen out of favor with other top Democrats in recent years and was ousted as Senate president in 2010 by Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland.
But the Democrats’ push to find someone to challenge Christie has rearranged things a bit.
Many Democrats were hoping that Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has some celebrity power, would run against Christie. But Booker last month declined and said he was instead considering running for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Buono got into the race, but Democrats have continued to search for someone else. Sweeney, who has said he was considering a run, urged Codey to do it.
But the Democratic establishment was getting impatient. Camden County powerbroker George Norcross, a childhood friend and ally of Sweeney’s, said recently that he doubted Codey had the courage to run.
In a statement of her own Friday, Buono praised Codey as “someone willing to take on those tough fights with grace and humility,” and promoted the support her campaign has been picking up from some Democratic leaders.
Buono is going after Christie’s economic record, saying his policies have contributed to the state’s unemployment rate of 9.6 percent, nearly 2 points about the national rate.
Early polls show that any Democrat is likely to struggle against Christie, who has received widespread praise for his leadership during and after Sandy.
A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed Christie beating Buono 63 percent to 22 percent and besting Codey 59 percent to 30 percent. Sixty-eight percent of the registered voters polled said Christie deserves re-election, and the governor received as much as 35 percent of the Democratic vote in those hypothetical matchups.
The poll was of 1,647 registered voters from Jan. 15-21. The poll’s sampling error margin was plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.