Inside The Democratic Party's Civil War That Produced Chris Christie's Landslide Victory

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Chris Christie

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Concession speeches, by their nature, are typically some of the shortest speeches candidates ever give. They usually involve thanking supporters, campaign staff, and family, wrapping up a months-long daily grind in a few minutes. 

Barbara Buono, the New Jersey gubernatorial candidate who lost to incumbent Gov. Chris Christie in a landslide Tuesday, added a twist to that. In her speech, she lambasted fellow Democrats while praising supporters whom she said had " withstood the onslaught of betrayal from our own political party."

"The Democratic political bosses, some elected and some not, made a deal with this governor," Buono said.  "They didn't do it for the state. They did it out of a desire to help themselves."

For Buono, a state senator with little name recognition, there was always little chance of beating a popular incumbent in Christie. Dysfunction within her own party in the state — and little support for her from the national party — made the challenge impossible. 

Two sets of stats in particular, show the insurmountable hurdles Buono had to overcome. In the last week of the campaign, Christie's campaign was able to spend $2.9 million on television advertising, something that's crucial in the expansive state of New Jersey. Throughout the entire campaign, Buono's campaign spent only $1.5 million on TV advertisements.

The second set of numbers displays the difference in support between Christie and Buono from their national parties. The Republican National Committee sent 32 staffers to New Jersey to work with the Christie campaign, and had eight offices open in New Jersey. The Democratic National Committee sent nothing. And the 32 staffers from the RNC were more than the entire Buono campaign staff.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chair of the DNC, "wrote a book about women in politics — you have the first woman nominated for governor in New Jersey's history, and we just never really got the support from the DNC," said one person close to the Buono campaign. The person pointed to a column from The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, in which he wrote that his " hunch is that national Democrats will regret they did not give Buono, a credible candidate, more help."

The result? An election in which Christie won more than 60% of the overall vote,  including more than 30% of Democrats .

In a post-election conference call Wednesday, Democratic campaign groups dismissed the viability of the Buono campaign.  Colm O'Comartun, the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, said that "scientifically ... it was not winnable."

"I have a responsibility to my members … and unlike the RGA, we always invest as wisely as possible, we have a record of spending less and winning races, and we have a record of not wasting money on races," O'Comartun said.

The Buono campaign declined to bite back, but communications director David Turner told Business Insider that "any campaign would appreciate more support."

If the internal strife was bad at the national level, it was worse at the state level. That was where Buono was mostly aiming her concession speech. On Oct. 11, Christie touted his 50th endorsement from a Democratic official or lawmaker in the state — a nice talking point that contributed to his message of bipartisanship throughout the campaign.

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Chris Christie Barbara Buono

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Other high-profile Democrats didn't put up much of a fight. In the middle of his own campaign in late September, then-Newark Mayor and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker appeared with Christie at a charter school ribbon-cutting ceremony in Newark, where he took some time to show Christie what he called "guv love."

In early October, Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, fueled the theme of bipartisanship by ripping into Congress in Washington. And a week later, Christie appeared with Democratic power broker George Norcross at the opening of the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper in Camden, N.J.

" Did it anger me? Yeah. Certainly Democrats in the state. It was very transactional," a person close to the Buono campaign said.

Christie had a deft strategy for wooing key Democrats, as detailed by The Bergen Record's Charlie Stile, that focused on using the power of the governor's office to reward his allies at the municipal level. Christie "exploited the divisions" within a weak state Democratic Party:

Christie reopened the governor’s office, but with an implied “you’re either with me or against me” ethos. Those who worked with him — by keeping a low profile, voting for parts of his agenda or even endorsing his reelection — could count on getting their phone calls returned and their needs addressed. Those who criticized risked being locked out.

For some Democrats, it was an easy decision. They saw no advantage in tangling with a governor whose popularity only seemed to soar with every attack on sewerage authority bureaucrats, teacher union leaders and the occasional mayor, like Atlantic City’s Lorenzo Langford, one of the few big-city mayors who openly clashed with Christie.

On Election Day, while Christie was soaring to re-election, Langford lost to a Republican opponent in usually heavily Democratic Atlantic City.

At the same time Buono faced defections by individual Democratic officeholders, she was saddled with a dysfunctional and disorganized state Democratic Party. The New Jersey Democratic State Committee didn't have a communications director from early June through late September. It didn't issue a press release from June 4 through Sept. 23 — in a year that featured gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections. 

This left the Buono campaign in the awkward position of having to introduce Buono while also attacking Christie. The usual function of a state party — keeping the other side on defense while the candidate stays positive — was non-existent.

"You n eed someone to do stuff to force him to answer questions," the person close to the Buono campaign said. " I mean, it's like, crazy. We were just kind of out on an island."

Matt Farrauto, the new communications director for the state party, rejected the notion that the state party didn't do what it could to work with Buono's campaign.

"The truth is, Chairman John Currie and the rest of the team at the New Jersey Democratic State Committee did not waver in our dedication to working collaboratively with Senator Buono's campaign, and with all of the Democratic candidates this election season," Farrauto  told Business Insider in an email.

But he also didn't begrudge Buono her venting.

Said Farrauto: "I think that a candidate who has endured a long, hard-fought campaign is entitled to give voice to her perspective during her concession speech."



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