Four years ago, former US Attorney Christopher J. Christie challenged incumbent Governor Jon Corzine, a close ally of the Obama Administration and symbol of big government within the Garden State, during a hotly contested gubernatorial election. The spectacle saw intense media coverage, fiery live debates, and rising conservative hope that a rejection of the Corzine agenda would signal a similar disavowal of President Obama’s like-minded goals on the national level. As is now well known, Christie won the election, and implemented several reform measures during his controversial term in office, high-profile accomplishments that further propelled his ascent to national stardom. Despite intense speculation, a 2012 presidential campaign failed to manifest, though a speech at the Republican National Convention was further proof that the GOP believes New Jersey’s governor will play a prominent role in the party and the nation’s future.
Of course, those plans hinge entirely on Governor Christie being re-elected during this November’s election. Though the showdown between the Republican incumbent and his Democratic challenger has been highly anticipated, as of this writing, several strategic moves and a sixty-eight-percent approval rating seem to be early signs of a second Christie victory. That his opponent, State Senator Barbara Buono, suffers from low name recognition and has yet to gain traction outside her own party is evidence of an uphill battle for the challenger, especially given that several of Governor Christie’s most recent reforms will likely further wear away at her already weak base of support.
Recently unveiled gun control proposals present several problems for Senator Buono’s campaign, which has often criticized the incumbent’s failure to enact more stringent policies regarding firearms. Though Republican loyalists, including GOP primary challenger Seth Grossman, claim these reforms represent an attack on the Second Amendment and betrayal of conservatism, the truth of the matter is Rightwing voters are highly unlikely to look outside the Republican Party this November. During primary elections, disgruntled ideological purists may be willing to vent their frustrations by fielding alternative candidates, but the Christie campaign knows that despite his perceived faults, these voters will view his candidacy as the only option to stop Senator Buono’s election and the re-implementation of Governor Corzine’s policies.
By promoting a new gun control plan, the Republican ticket has infringed upon territory typically appealing to liberal voters, which doesn’t bode well for the Democratic frontrunner; Senator Buono cannot go any further to the Left on this issue without isolating moderates, meaning the governor has successfully robbed her campaign of one of its strongest planks. By choosing to focus on the compassionate treatment of mental health to combat potential violent crime, the Christie campaign has also channeled the spirit of former Governor Richard Cody, the maverick Democrat who went to great lengths to draw attention towards New Jersey’s antiquated, failing psychiatric hospitals. Cody became a favorite among the more independent-minded of the state’s progressives; that Christie could enjoy further appeal with this base is bad news for Senator Buono, who will have a hard time marketing her two confrontation-free decades in the State Legislature as a sign of Cody-esque free-thinking, or even the leadership capability progressives crave.
That the Democratic machine recently purged several other gubernatorial hopefuls from the primary ballot doesn’t display much confidence in Senator Buono, their endorsed candidate, or her ability to win over voters. With a recent poll showing the incumbent defeating the Democrat with fifty-eight percent of the vote, the future looks bright for Christopher J. Christie, though for his opponent, the path to Trenton is riddled with obstacles.