ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono stepped up her appeal to women voters on Friday, as she and other Democrats sought to raise enthusiasm within the party for a candidate who remains far behind Gov. Chris Christie in name recognition and fundraising.
State Sen. Buono was the keynote speaker at a Democratic State Committee luncheon in Atlantic City, where she talked about Christie's record on women's issues, such as his veto of a minimum wage hike and elimination of funding for women's health care centers. She promised to look out for women and families if she's elected governor.
"During my time in the Legislature, I've made the rights of our women a top priority because we know that what benefits New Jersey's women isn't just good for us, it's good for our families, for our communities and for the state of New Jersey," she told the crowd of Democrats, including mayors and county officials and state lawmakers. "I will, as your governor, do everything in my power to lift up New Jersey's women."
Mostly, though, Buono's nine-minute speech was designed to rally her base. Polls show she lags Christie among most demographic groups, including women, and that her support among Democrats is soft. She is accepting state matching funds, which give candidates $2 for every $1 raised, but may not raise enough money to receive the maximum match for the primary, where she faces no serious opponent.
"I know we're a blue state, but we can't take anything for granted this year," she said. "If we want to win, we'll have to fight. And that means I'm going to need you to knock on a few doors. I'm going to need you to talk to your girlfriends and your co-workers, your neighbors and your sons and daughters and let them know that we are on the dawn of a new era."
Other elected Democratic women spoke up for Buono. Her campaign chair, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, reminded the crowd that the number of registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Jersey by 750,000. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, the first African-American woman to lead the chamber, ignited the crowd by declaring, "there is no reason the women of this state cannot elect Barbara Buono as the next New Jersey governor."
Christie, meanwhile, was campaigning in Burlington City, where he received an endorsement from the community's Democratic Mayor, James Fazzone, who said he remains a "left-wing bleeding liberal Democrat." Fazzone, whose town along the Delaware River was not badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy, praised Christie for his leadership and organization, particularly during the storm.
Burlington City is dominated by Democrats, but it's in the 7th legislative district, one of the few in the state with legislative seats split between the parties.
Christie said the biggest change from his campaign of four years ago as a relatively underfunded underdog isn't the money; it's that he has to fit in campaigning while he handles his full-time job as governor.
He also said he and his family appear in a tourism commercial for the Jersey shore because they were asked to do so by the firm creating the ad. "There's nothing political about those ads," he said.
He said that it would have been putting politics ahead of his job of running the state if he had refused to be in the commercial for fear of criticism. Democrats have criticized Christie for appearing in the televised ads while running for re-election.
Associated Press Writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report from Burlington City.