As Barbara Buono’s gubernatorial candidacy continues to pick up steam with endorsements from party leaders in Monmouth and Somerset Counties in addition to her home county of Middlesex as well as positive statements from political machine bosses like Joe DiVincenzo and George Norcross, it appears as if the only thing standing between her and the Democratic nomination is our state’s former Acting Governor, Richard Codey who is currently considering a gubernatorial run of his own and has been talking to the Democratic Governors Association and national labor leaders to gauge how much money they would be willing to commit to help him take on Chris Christie in the fall if he was successful in becoming the Democratic nominee.
Codey’s delay in making a decision is clearly a product of Cory Booker’s decision to take far too much time to tell the rest of us what many of us already knew, which was that there was no way that he was going to put his political career on the line in a tough battle against Chris Christie when he could run for the United States Senate next year and have a much easier path to victory (that is, unless Frank Lautenberg, Frank Pallone, and/or Steve Sweeney decide to stand in his way) and while credit should be given to Buono for being willing to put her political career on the line before New Jersey’s answer to LeBron James got around to making his big decision and the impatience being expressed by many in the Democratic Party is understandable and as much as I would love to see this primary election season get underway, I believe that Codey should be given sufficient space and time (until the end of the month) to make what amounts to the most important decision of his political career.
There are many good reasons why Codey deserves this. First and foremost amongst these is the fact that throughout his distinguished political career, he has set the standard for good governance and political independence. He has also been a good and loyal Democrat. When he was Acting Governor, he could (and probably should) have challenged Jon Corzine for the Democratic nomination in 2005. He would have had nothing to lose by running that year. Even if he had lost, he would have still been a State Senator and would have most likely remained Senate President. But he was more interested in governing well than campaigning for Governor and coming on the heels of the McGreevey scandals, he wanted the Democratic Party to be united behind a single candidate going into the general election.
That said, the best reason for a primary election between Barbara Buono and Dick Codey is that I believe that the winner of this primary election campaign will be a much stronger candidate against Chris Christie, who is as strong at the moment as he has ever been during what has been an otherwise unimpressive first term as Governor prior to Hurricane Sandy and the events that followed. I do not believe that a Buono-Codey primary election has to be divisive or expensive. There will be no need for either candidate to spend much, if anything, on television advertising, particularly the kind of negative attack ads that have been the standard for past statewide Democratic primary elections. Their positions on the issues are not going to be dramatically different.
The difference between victory and defeat for Buono and Codey is going to be the degree to which they can engage and excite the Democratic primary election electorate over the next few months by communicating a vision for our state’s governance that contrasts as vividly as possible with that of Governor Christie’s. There is no doubt in my mind that the work that both candidates would do in this regard would do more to enhance their respective candidacies against Christie in the summer and fall than what they would otherwise be doing if their path to the Democratic nomination was uncontested.
A perfect example of this is the 2008 Presidential primary election. There can be no doubt that President Barack Obama became a much stronger candidate as a result of the lengthy campaign that he had with Secretary Hillary Clinton. I believe that much of the momentum that he had going into the general election, which drove Senator John McCain to make the risky pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate, instead of a much safer pick like Joe Lieberman, which could have changed the nature of the general election dramatically, was a result of all of the work that both campaigns put into the primary election effort.
Contested primary elections are also good for our democratic process. In our blue counties, where Democrats often win, there are almost never contested Democratic primary elections, giving our rank-and-file voters a real choice between different visions about what it means to be a Democrat. A contested gubernatorial primary election will create opportunities for opposition slates to be created in every county, which in turn will create opportunities for ambitious and erstwhile candidates to run in contested primary elections for every office up for grabs this year. This is how a democracy is supposed to operate instead of being controlled by political machine bosses who handpick their candidates based on their loyalty to the political machines rather than their commitment and dedication to good governance and progressive values.
There is no doubt in my mind that both Barbara Buono and Richard Codey are progressive Democrats who will be a strong opponent for Chris Christie this fall, so if Codey does decide to run, no matter who wins in June, Democrats will have a great chance to win in November. Buono has the ability to hyperperform with women, including but not limited to independents and Republicans while Codey has name recognition from being Acting Governor and the ability to attract support from independents and moderate Republicans.
For me, the difference between Buono and Codey comes down to loyalty. When I was actively involved in Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign here in New Jersey, Dick Codey was the guy who was personally responsible for getting Governor McGreevey and the bulk of the Democratic establishment in the state to endorse his candidacy. Codey saw firsthand the work that Howard Dean’s supporters did during the 2003 legislative elections both in the primary election on behalf of his close ally, Nia Gill, who had been thrown off the party line by his nemesis, Steve Adubato, and in the general election on behalf of Ellen Karcher, who defeated his co-Senate President, John Bennett, enabling Democrats to claim a majority in the State Senate and him to become Senate President.
As a way of thanking us for our efforts, Codey put the full weight of his leadership position behind Howard Dean’s Presidential candidacy and convinced McGreevey et al to join him in doing so. If presented with a choice between Buono and Codey and absent any other compelling reason to support one over the other, I believe that my fellow Dean supporters should join me in thanking Codey for what he did for Howard Dean and for us ten years ago by encouraging him to run for Governor this year and supporting his candidacy wholeheartedly.