Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) is "not pursuing" a race against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a move that denies Democrats a candidate some party leaders saw as the strongest.
Pascrell used the announcement of a new federal grant to the Paterson Fire Department to tell PolitickerNJ.com that he is not planning to challenge the one-term Christie. State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) is the only announced Democratic challenger to Christie, and some party leaders have been trying to block Buono's candidacy by openly looking for an alternative.
“I’m not pursuing that position,” Pascrell told PolitickerNJ.com.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), a potential gubernatorial candidate, tried to recruit Pascrell into the governor's race, calling him a "strong candidate" last month. Sweeney has long been at odds with Buono, including ousting her as state Senate majority leader last year.
Pascrell, a former Paterson mayor, handily defeated former Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) in a bitter member-on-member Democratic congressional primary last year. Pascrell defeated Republican Rabbi Shmuley Boteach by 50 points in November to capture his ninth term in Congress.
Buono entered the race against Christie in December, becoming the first Democrat to challenge the popular first-term Republican. Her candidacy was backed by party leaders in Middlesex and Somerset counties, though she has lagged in initial polls and fundraising against Christie, who has 72-percent approval ratings following Hurricane Sandy.
Buono entered the governor's race before Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D), viewed by Democrats as the strongest Christie challenger, said he was considering a run for the U.S. Senate instead.
Buono has been vocal in her opposition to Christie, including attacking his decision Wednesday to not commit to gun control legislation and calling him "tone deaf" for not including an economic development plan in his State of the State address on Tuesday.
In addition to Sweeney, state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) and Elizabeth, N.J., Mayor Chris Bollwage (D) are both seen as potential gubernatorial candidates. Earlier this week, state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth), the powerful leader of the Union County Democratic Party, called on Codey, a former governor, to enter the race, calling him Democrats' "Obi-Wan Kenobi," in a reference to the character from the "Star Wars" movie series.