WASHINGTON -- Democratic mayors in New Jersey want anyone interested in challenging Gov. Chris Christie (R) in November to enter the race soon.
The mayors, in Washington to lobby Congress on gun control, told The Huffington Post that the continuing speculation over possible gubernatorial contenders needs to come to an end, but they still disagree about whether the field should be an open primary among all comers.
"I am looking for any Democratic candidate to step forward sooner rather than later," Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr told HuffPost. "I believe it is time. The primary is in June. There has been a lot of speculation and a lot of conversations."
State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) remains the only announced Democratic candidate for governor, while state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) continues to make moves signaling a candidacy.
New Jersey Democrats are frantically searching for an alternative to Buono, who has been trailing in initial polls against the popular Christie. Democratic Party county chairs in the state are reportedly setting a Feb. 1 deadline for candidates to step forward in the race.
Codey has yet to announce his candidacy, but he has planned a trip to Washington next week to discuss campaign funding with outside groups. He is reportedly looking for at least $30 million in outside group spending on his behalf should he challenge Christie. (That ambitious ask is nearly as much as the $40 million outside groups spent in Ohio last year in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.)
New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage also are exploring candidacies, and a movement has started to back Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill (D-Montclair).
The mayors who spoke with HuffPost, however, centered their speculation on a likely Buono vs. Codey primary race. Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca, who said he is likely to back Codey, stressed that both state senators make strong "contrasts" to Christie and noted their records of "not playing ball" with the governor on a number of issues, including pension and benefits reform.
Sweeney, on the other hand, has had a close working relationship with Christie on a number of issues and even deposed Buono as Senate majority leader.
Even though Christie enjoyed a 72 percent approval rating in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, DeLuca is looking past it. "I don't think Christie is invincible," he said.
Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley said he remains neutral in the Democratic race so far but played up Buono as a candidate who could defeat Christie. He cited Buono's life story, which includes working her way through law school, being on food stamps and coming close to seeking welfare benefits.
"She understands and knows what people go through; she's lived it herself," Holley said. "Once people know her story, they will commit."
Buono received the backing of Monmouth County Democrats this week and has received backing from party leaders in Middlesex and Somerset Counties.
Meanwhile, influential state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) is calling on Codey to enter the race. DeLuca said Lesniak's voice will be respected among Democrats, but noted Lesniak would need to find funds for a Codey candidacy.
Both Mahr and Holley hail from Union County, a Democratic stronghold where Lesniak leads the county party. Mahr said she is waiting until the county party chair, Charlotte DeFilippo, makes an endorsement before deciding on a candidate, but she also pointed to Lesniak's potential influence. "When he talks, a lot of people listen," she said.
Holley stressed the need for Democrats to rally behind someone.
"I think the party will unite behind a candidate," he said. "We need to unite soon or it will be the destruction of our party in New Jersey."
Also on HuffPost:
"It's Not My Time" (3 Doors Down)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/04/chris-christie-2012-decision-_n_993910.html" target="_hplink">(Oct. 4, 2011) --</a></strong> Christie announced that he will not run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, vowing that "now is not my time." He quipped to New Jersey residents "whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me."
"Need You Now" (Lady Antebellum)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/chris-christie-mitt-romney_n_1005601.html" target="_hplink"><strong>LEBANON, N.H. (Oct. 11, 2011) --</strong></a> After dismissing calls to run for president himself, Christie endorsed Romney, telling the GOP that he is the candidate we need now.
"How Do I Live" (LeAnn Rimes)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/07/chris-christie-town-hall_n_1133756.html" target="_hplink">WEST NEW YORK, N.J. (Dec. 7, 2011) --</a></strong> At a local town hall, Christie did not take kindly to a <a href="http://videos.nj.com/star-ledger/2011/12/video_chris_christie_asked_if.html" target="_hplink">constituent's question</a> about how his administration conducts these types of meetings. He showed the individual little mercy, going "if I plant questions, why the hell did I call on you?"
"Can You Feel The Love Tonight" (Elton John)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/08/chris-christie-mic-checked-occupy-wall-street_n_1136762.html" target="_hplink">(Dec. 8, 2011) --</a></strong> Occupy Wall Street protesters interrupted Christie during an appearance in Iowa, making him a target of the movement's "mic check" trend.
"Shut Up" (The Black Eyed Peas)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/chris-christie-warren-buffett_n_1294579.html" target="_hplink">(Feb. 21, 2012) --</a></strong> In an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, Christie had some choice words for Warren Buffett, surrounding the billionaire investor's desire to be taxed at a higher rate. "Just write a check and shut up," he remarked.
"American Idiot" (Green Day)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/christie-argues-with-veteran_n_1334963.html" target="_hplink">(March 9, 2012) --</a></strong> Christie argued with a former Navy SEAL over the New Jersey's plans to reconfigure public universities. The result? Some fire from the governor's tongue, as he called the veteran an "idiot."
"Call Me Maybe" (Carly Rae Jepsen)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/13/chris-christie-talks-vp-p_n_1423271.html" target="_hplink">(April 13, 2012) --</a></strong> Throughout Mitt Romney's run for the White House, Christie made it known that he was open to a vice presidential nod (should Romney ask him).
"Rocky Ground" (Bruce Springsteen)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/chris-christie-sleeping-bruce-springsteen-_n_1438337.html" target="_hplink">(April 19, 2012) --</a></strong> Christie vehemently denied reports that he was sleeping at a Bruce Springsteen concert in New York City. <em><strong>
"I Don't Really Care" (Waka Flocka Flame)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/chris-christie-jimmy-kimmel_n_1465608.html" target="_hplink">(April 30, 2012) --</a> Christie responded to jokes comedian Jimmy Kimmel made about his weight at the 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner, throwing Sofia Vergara into the mix. "I figured I was in the zone of danger," he said.
"Ready Or Not" (The Fugees)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/14/chris-christie-gop-keynote-convention_n_1774525.html" target="_hplink">(Aug. 14, 2012) --</a></strong> After entertaining the idea of running for president and making Mitt Romney's short list of VP candidates, Christie was named the keynote speaker at the 2012 Republican National Convention. "I'll try to tell some very direct and hard truths to people in the country about the trouble that we're in and the fact that fixing those problems is not going to be easy for any of them," he told <em>USA Today</em>.