Of the campaign narratives being pushed by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, the one that seems to have little resonance is her assertion that Gov. Chris Christie is more at home in the bucolic cornfields of Iowa than on the mean streets of Newark, Camden, Trenton or Elizabeth.
The strategy reflects her belief and her hope that voters will punish Christie in November for seeking their support for his re-election only to abandon them a year or so later to pursue the Republican nomination for president. The belief is flawed and the hope misplaced.
That Christie is ambitious is indisputable. That he possesses an ego is undeniable. But, then, so does everyone in public office. Their motivations vary. Some seek the ideal of public service; others a bit of power, and still others a way to boost their personal or professional lives.
Most manage to submerge their aspirations for advancement, while some remain above it all and allow others to encourage speculation about future political endeavors.
The phrase "a fire in the belly" refers to either an eight-alarm conflagration or a pile of faintly glowing embers, but a flame is always present.
Buono's criticisms notwithstanding, voters for the most part are not angered over the possibility that a second Christie term as governor is a prelude to his undertaking a run at the presidential nomination. At least, not sufficiently angry to switch in significant numbers to her.
Rather, they view the governor's unabashed flirting with national prominence as part of a constantly changing political mural painted by other governors, U.S. senators and members of the House.
Buono appears convinced she can make headway by accusing Christie of appealing to or appeasing the right wing of the national Republican party while either ignoring issues that trouble New Jerseyans or pushing a radical agenda.
The buzz about Christie as presidential material began when he was governor less than two years. Driven by relentless media reports that Republicans were desperate for a candidate other than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Christie's flamethrower style and his back-alley brawl with public-employee unions appealed to party leaders and heavy-hitter donors concerned that Romney was the frontrunner only because he spent millions of dollars burying his opponents under negative advertising.
Despite Christie's repeated and colorful denials, the attention threatened to overshadow Romney's campaign. As a result, he was forced to hold a news conference to announce his withdrawal from a race he'd never entered and endorse Romney.
The speculation died but was reborn after President Barack Obama's re-election. There has not been anything surreptitious about it, and Christie's activities since then have ginned up the chatter about a potential 2016 candidacy.
His travel itinerary, for instance, resembles a television commercial for Continental Airlines, the one which displays an outline of the United States crisscrossed by dozens of red lines showing its daily destinations.
His public support has not suffered. He's maintained his 30-point lead over Buono, cutting across party, age, gender and ethnic lines. Democrats have lined up to endorse him, a situation so embarrassing that state chairman John Currie publicly threatened retaliation against any Democrat who threw in with Christie.
If Christie in his private and reflective moments thinks seriously about a presidential effort, he's not about to share those thoughts publicly. He'll simply continue to deflect direct questions about his intentions.
Each time a national poll is released that shows him leading the other potential Republican candidates and within striking distance of Hillary Clinton, his future becomes the subject of television talk shows, reporters, academics and analysts. There is nothing Buono can do or say to put an end to the speculation, and she'd serve her candidacy much better if she didn't try.
There are openings available to criticize Christie and make a case that in his first four years the state's economy has declined while property taxes have continued to rise.
A finely honed message that Christie has ignored the plight of middle-class New Jerseyans and completely dismissed the desperate straits of low-income individuals has a better chance of achieving traction for her.
Her recent shot at the administration's awarding of a $5 million contract to a politically active public-relations firm that included Christie and his family in a television advertising campaign touting the Jersey shore scored some points and drew a level of media attention that had been lacking. As similar targets of opportunity arise, Buono should respond quickly and forcefully rather than complaining Christie is heeding the siren call coming from the cornfields of Iowa. Believing that issue is capable of turning the election is an exercise in self-delusion.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College.