Buono on Norcross comments: ‘I’m grateful the party is coming together’

A day after  South Jersey power broker George Norcross urged the Democratic party to coalesce around a gubernatorial candidate and end the uncertainty, State Sen. Barbara Buono, to date the only candidate in the race, said she was grateful her party was finally coming together.

In an interview with PolitickerNJ, Norcross said Buono was a “high quality candidate” and said in the absence of anyone else, it’s time for the party to back her.  He also had harsh words for another potential candidate, state Sen. Dick Codey, who he said does not have the guts to run for governor, comparing him to the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz.

Reached this morning, Buono said she remains focused on the nomination and not on the internal strife around her.

“I’m pleased that the party is coming together,” she said. “I was always confident that we would. My continued focus is on the campaign. I can’t focus on the back and forth within the party. “I’m just focused on the oppressive fiscal policies of this governor and trying to not get bogged down in the intra-party workings.”

Norcross’s statements took the political world by surprise as to date he has publicly stayed out of the race.  The attack on Codey was of particular surprise as just weeks ago, Norcross ally and Senate President Steve Sweeney sat down with Codey to gauge his interest in a bid for governor.

Codey is thought to give the party its best chance to unseat Gov. Chris Christie.

But Codey has stopped short of declaring his candidacy, telling reporters and party leaders he is trying to gauge the amount of monetary support he can expect for the run.  In an interview earlier this week, Codey said he hopes he would have as much as $45 million for the race including state matching funds and support from outside sources such as organized labor and the Democratic Governor’s Association.

It’s unclear how Norcross’s comments will affect Codey’s decision, however the state senator and former governor said yesterday the comments don’t bother him in the least.

“I had the guts to take him on and I’ve been doing it since 1993,” Codey said in response.  “He’s done a good job of trying to wreck this party so he can run everything in concert with the governor.  As he said very famously, no matter who runs, I win.  That’s the attitude we have to change.”

Meanwhile, the state’s Democratic county chairmen say they want the field narrowed by the end of the month and are urging any interested candidate to make their move by then. 

Democrats say they want to avoid a primary and have spoken of hoping to form a “fusion ticket” between Buono and Codey should Codey enter the race.

However, Buono said she has no interest in a ticket that has her in the role of candidate for lieutenant governor.

“I announced I’m running for governor and that’s what we’re building,” she said. “We’re building support at the grass roots level and trying to reach (the fundraising level to qualify for) matching funds.  That’s what I’m focused on and not the various theories people have about where things should go.”

"He’s obviously working very, very hard at it. I mean he’s traveling all over the country as chairman of the [Republican Governors Association] and I think at this point he has as good a chance or better than anybody else. His name is household word all across the country, and I think he would make a great president."
—former U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R-3), on Gov. Chris Christie