Imagine this:

Chris Christie is at the controls of an airplane that experiences difficulty remaining airborne. He orders his crew to lighten the plane's load.

The crew, consisting of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Hudson County State Sen. Brian Stack, Senate President Steve Sweeney and assorted Democratic municipal officials, responds by seizing gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono and flinging her into the clouds.

All is well and the crew can take credit for saving the plane and everybody in it. There is, of course, an expectation that their bravery will be rewarded by the pilot at some point.

Christie's smooth glide path to re-election is not in serious doubt, but with the help of his crew, he has eliminated any suggestion of turbulence.

It's been clear ever since he announced his re-election bid that Christie intended to pursue not merely a decisive victory, but one so overwhelming that it would catapult him into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders in 2016.

The polling has been consistent: His lead over Buono has held at 30 points; his job-performance standing is in the 60 percent range, and he leads in nearly every category.

All signs point to Christie realizing his wish of a plurality approaching the three-quarters of a million votes run up by Tom Kean in 1985.

The Democratic party has deteriorated into a dysfunctional family, beset by public quarreling and sniping at Buono.

The party has conceded the gubernatorial election while regrouping to defend its majorities in the Legislature. It appears content to wait for 2017, when Christie will be completing his second term or will have already left to pursue national ambitions.

The lack of any concern for Buono and the absence of any compunction about tossing her out of the airplane are striking. It's no secret that party leaders actively sought someone other than her to oppose Christie, but when all of the viable challengers took a pass, they were left with her.

Rather than close ranks and rally behind her in the name of party loyalty, many Democrats simply gave up, went through the motions, or worked against her.

Party-switching and crossover endorsements have become increasingly common, but the high profiles of those who've announced their support for Christie have made their decisions stand out.

DiVincenzo and Stack are leaders of the two strongest Democratic counties in the state, always counted upon to deliver election-deciding pluralities for their party's candidates. That historic edge will be denied to Buono.

While he has not endorsed Christie, Sweeney's antipathy toward Buono's candidacy and his policy differences with her are well-documented. Additionally, his political guru is South Jersey leader George Norcross. Sweeney, the speculation has it, would not be so unenthusiastic about Buono without Norcross' acquiescence or at his direction.

Buono faced a difficult task from the outset. Her fundraising has been less than robust. As long as she is unable to narrow the gap in the polls, it will be difficult to convince reliable party donors to be as generous as they have been in the past.

Circumstances have worked against her as well, diverting attention away from her while muting her message and denying her any significant issue-oriented traction.

Christie cavorting at the shore with President Barack Obama - the national leader of Buono's party - reminded everybody of the governor's leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The special election to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg has sucked much of the oxygen out of the political atmosphere.

She continues to struggle for the media attention necessary to achieve broader name recognition. She has been powerless to combat Christie's masterful use of incumbency.

She can hope the debates will provide her with the audience and exposure she needs, but Christie is a skilled debater and is not about to allow her to gain the upper hand in a face-to-face confrontation.

Being deserted by party leaders simply adds to a burden that already seems more than she can bear.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with The William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

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