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Mitch McConnell Targeted By Conservative Group In Ads For 2014 Election

Amanda Terkel   |   January 9, 2013   11:26 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is facing the first attack ads of his 2014 reelection campaign, from a conservative group accusing him of selling out Republican principles by working with the Obama administration on a "fiscal cliff" deal.

ForAmerica, which bills itself as "an online army of over 3 million people," is placing online ads in Kentucky and nationally on, the Daily Caller and the Drudge Report. The ads have a photograph of McConnell between Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama and read, "Mitch McConnell: Whose Side Are You On?"

Readers are directed to the group's website to sign a petition and "let McConnell and congressional Republicans know conservatives are watching and will hold accountable those who go against the principles they claim to support!"

"Senator McConnell often talks a tough game and sells himself as a conservative, but his actions speak louder than his words," said ForAmerica Chairman L. Brent Bozell III in a statement. "His role as President Obama's bag man in the latest fiscal cliff disaster clearly demonstrates that Senator McConnell is more interested in the art of the bad deal rather than standing up and fighting for conservative principles. It is time for conservatives to stand up to politicians in both parties who talk conservative but govern as liberals."

The ads against McConnell come despite the fact that the senator scores a 95 percent on ForAmerica's "Freedom Meter," which measures where lawmakers stand on issues important to the organization.

ForAmerica Executive Director David Bozell, however, said that McConnell's score is likely to dip significantly.

"The fiscal cliff vote will soon be integrated into the Freedom Meter, but, as everyone knows, it only takes a few bad test scores to screw up a decent grade," Bozell said. "And the deal Senator McConnell cut with liberals is certainly a doozy. Going forward, we hope that Senator McConnell stops cutting bad deals with liberal Democrats behind closed doors and stands up for fiscal discipline and economic growth; if he does so, then we will enthusiastically support him.”

The group told HuffPost it is spending five figures on the digital ad buy. McConnell's office did not return a request for comment.

For months, there have been rumblings that McConnell may be challenged in his primary election by the conservative wing of his party.

Eric Wilson, executive director of the Kentucky 9/12 project -- a Tea Party group in McConnell's state -- recently told Reuters that there are "some potential candidates working in the background" to possibly challenge McConnell.

Whoever takes on McConnell will likely face a steep imbalance in cash. The minority leader has wasted no time in building up his war chest, holding a fundraiser on the day after the 2012 election.

This post has been updated to include additional information about McConnell's voting history and a statement from David Bozell.

Luke Johnson   |   January 8, 2013    2:44 PM ET

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) slammed American International Group on Tuesday for thinking about suing the federal government over the $182 billion taxpayer bailout the insurance giant received during the financial crisis.

AIG is considering whether to join a $25 billion shareholder lawsuit claiming that the terms of the bailout were unfair.

"Beginning in 2008, the federal government poured billions of dollars into AIG to save it from bankruptcy. AIG's reckless bets nearly crashed our entire economy. Taxpayers across this country saved AIG from ruin, and it would be outrageous for this company to turn around and sue the federal government because they think the deal wasn't generous enough," said Warren in a statement. "Even today, the government provides an ongoing, stealth bailout, propping up AIG with special tax breaks -- tax breaks that Congress should stop. AIG should thank American taxpayers for their help, not bite the hand that fed them for helping them out in a crisis."

Warren's outrage stood in contrast to the reaction from the White House, which declined to comment on the potential lawsuit Tuesday.

Warren has espoused a more populist view of Wall Street than the Obama administration has. Republicans threatened a filibuster over her permanent appointment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; that opposition, along with concerns from the Treasury Department, derailed her appointment. Turning her attention to a run against then-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Warren campaigned and won on a message decrying the outsized influence of financial institutions versus the middle class. She now holds a seat on the Senate Banking Committee.

The AIG board will meet Wednesday to consider joining the lawsuit. The insurer just launched a television ad called, "Thank you, America."

John Celock   |   January 8, 2013   11:36 AM ET

The birther movement is now targeting Chief Justice John Roberts for impeachment if he swears in President Barack Obama for a second term later this month.

Craige McMillan, a columnist for the conservative publication, wrote a piece last week asking Roberts to not swear Obama in, because, according to McMillan, Obama does not meet the Constitution's definition of a natural born citizen. In the piece, McMillan claims that Obama is not a citizen because his father was a citizen of Kenya and the United Kingdom, and that Obama cannot be "a natural born citizen" because his father was not an American citizen. Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born and raised in Kansas by parents who were born in Kansas.

McMillan wrote:

Your failure to investigate these citizenship issues surrounding Mr. Obama at the time questions were raised during his first term places you in a terrible position. You are now confronted with a most difficult choice.

Your own oath of office, sworn before God and the American people, requires you to uphold the Constitution. (If not you, then who?) If you now administer the oath of office for the presidency to a man who by his own admission fails to meet the natural born citizen requirement imposed by that Constitution, you have violated your own oath of office and are rightly subject to impeachment by any House of Representatives, at any time, now or in the future.

McMillan then suggested that the outcome for the country would be "Illegal wars. Illegal debts. Illegal laws." The New Civil Rights Movement reported that the National Memo responded to McMillan's piece by noting that Obama has met all the qualifications for being a natural born citizen, including being born in Hawaii and his mother being born in Kansas.

McMillan's argument is similar to one used by Kansas resident Joe Montgomery in September when he sought to have the Kansas Objections Board remove Obama from the ballot in the state. Montgomery at the time argued that citizenship flowed "primarily" through the father and that Obama could not be an American citizen since his father was not one. The Objections Board -- which consists of three Republican statewide officeholders -- voted to hold a hearing on Montgomery's case, but dropped the case when Montgomery withdrew his objection. Montgomery told The Huffington Post at the time that he withdrew his case due to threats. At the time, the singer Cher tweeted that the Kansas Republican Party was "beneath slime" for the board's decision to entertain Montgomery's case.

Birther queen Orly Taitz intervened in the Kansas case, including flying to Topeka in an attempt to get the Objections Board to remove Obama from the ballot. Taitz has not taken a position on a Roberts' impeachment, but has used her website to call on Roberts to investigate Obama's citizenship.

John Celock   |   January 8, 2013   10:49 AM ET

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) will not run for his old job in 2014.

Strickland announced Tuesday morning that he would not challenge Gov. John Kasich (R) next year, ending the possibility of a rematch between the two 2010 rivals. Strickland, a one-term governor, was a vocal surrogate during the 2012 election for President Barack Obama and Ohio Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D).

He said in his statement Tuesday that he looked back "fondly" on his four years in the governor's mansion and that it was a "very difficult decision." Strickland used the statement, released by the Ohio Democratic Party, to highlight his administration's accomplishments, including the auto bailout, which was a top issue for Obama, Brown and Democrats during the 2012 election.

"Most significant for jobs, we were leaders in investments in alternatives sources of energy and went to bat for the automobile industry; working closely with President Obama on the rescue plan that has been so pivotal in Ohio’s economic recovery," Strickland said.

Strickland's decision shifts attention to Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D) as the leading Democratic challenger to Kasich. FitzGerald, the first county executive in his county, has been mentioned along with Strickland as one of two leading contenders to challenge Kasich. FitzGerald has taken steps to increase his visibility within Ohio, including highlighting his opposition to Kasich.

Kasich, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, is considered a target for Democrats in 2014, stemming from his role in changing Ohio's collective bargaining system, which was overturned by voters in 2011. Within Ohio, Democrats are expected to push heavy challenges against Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) and state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) in the 2014 races.

John Celock   |   January 7, 2013    5:02 PM ET

The Democratic president of the New Jersey state Senate claimed that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) "prayed a lot and got lucky" that Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey in order to distract from his economic agenda.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who is considering launching a gubernatorial campaign against Christie, used a press conference Monday in Trenton to launch into his attack, reports. Sweeney discussed New Jersey's unemployment rate of close to 10 percent, a frequent Democratic attack line, and then referenced Christie's remarks that Hurricane Sandy -- which ravaged the state -- has reset New Jersey's agenda. reports:

Sweeney also noted that the state faces a high foreclosure rate and had stalled in distributing hundreds of millions in federal dollars to help the troubled homeowners. And he noted that Christie had vetoed Democratic bills that were intended to create jobs.

“His jobs package is a hurricane. I guess he prayed a lot and got lucky that a storm came,” said Sweeney, who immediately followed the comment by saying, “I shouldn’t say that. I apologize for saying that.”

Sweeney immediately found himself under attack by Republicans, who have normally been close with the South Jersey Democrat. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak characterized Sweeney's claim as a "heartless partisan attack" and said that "no one prayed" for the storm to smash into the state. Sandy, which hit in late October, damaged much of the state's coastal areas and caused downed trees and power lines across much of New Jersey, leaving many without power for over a week.

Republican state legislators joined Drewniak in condemning Sweeney.

"While I have supported some of the reforms proposed by Senator Sweeney, his remark was insensitive and particularly offensive to the people along the Jersey Shore who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy," Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (R-Little Silver) said in a statement. "His outrageous comment is an example of why the public has a cynical view of the Legislature."

The flap comes as Sweeney continues to ponder entering the gubernatorial race against Christie. State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) is the only announced Democratic candidate, with party leaders continuing to look at Sweeney, state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland), Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell as alternatives. State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) yesterday described Codey, a former governor, as Democrats' "Obi Wan Kenobi" in the gubernatorial race. Democratic leaders have been calling on anyone looking to run for governor to announce their intentions sooner rather than later.

Christie's response to Hurricane Sandy helped him increase his approval rating to 72 percent, representing a large lead over both Buono and Codey. Buono has been trying to use the fact that she is the only person in the Democratic field right now to lock up support in the heavily divided New Jersey Democratic Party.

John Celock   |   January 7, 2013   12:34 PM ET

A 19-year-old socialist took office last week as the member of a local school board in New Jersey.

Pat Noble, a pharmacy clerk, was sworn-in as a member of the Red Bank Regional High School Board of Education after defeating an incumbent in November's election, reported. Noble is the founder of the Socialist Party of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, which seeks to promote socialist ideals in the two Jersey shore counties.

Noble, who unsuccessfully ran for Monmouth County freeholder in 2011, told that he hopes to take his socialist views to the school board.

“You reach more people, more quickly when you win an election,” said Noble, whose father, Peter, is a member of the board of education for the Red Bank Borough Public Schools. “People would rather hear from a candidate than some guy on a street corner, especially on socialism when a majority of them are capitalists.”

Now, Noble said he plans to stand up for his socialist beliefs as a member of the Red Bank Regional school board.

“I’m hoping to bring a different perspective, a left-wing perspective to a board full of capitalists,” he said. “I have a different view point, both as a younger person and a Socialist, that I think could have a positive impact in and of itself.”

Noble plans to focus on several areas as a school board member, including the promotion of LGBT issues in sex education classes, banning military recruiters from schools, opposing merit pay for teachers and fighting budget cuts.

Noble is not the first teenager with ties to far left groups to win a school board seat in the U.S. In 2005, Shane Brinton, an 18-year-old who had been involved with local Communist Party anti-war activities, was elected to the North Humboldt Union High School Board of Education in northern California. Brinton, a Democrat, said in the book The Next Generation: Young Elected Officials and Their Impact on American Politics, that he was not a member of the Communist Party, but was involved with it as part of his opposition to the Iraq War, noting that it was better organized. Brinton, now the mayor of Arcata, Calif., had a similar platform to Noble on the school board, including opposing military recruiters and overhauling the school system's sex education curriculum.

Noble is also not the only young elected official to take office as a school board member in New Jersey this month. J. Brendan Galligan, 23, was sworn-in as a member of the Westfield Board of Education last week. Galligan, an engineering student, did not disclose his political beliefs in his campaign, and did not include changes to Westfield's sex education curriculum or a military recruitment ban in his platform. U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was 20 when he was elected to the Union City, N.J. Board of Education in 1974.

John Celock   |   January 7, 2013   11:12 AM ET

A powerful New Jersey state senator has taken to Facebook to push a former Democratic governor to challenge Gov. Chris Christie (R), calling him New Jersey's Democrats' "Obi Wan Kenobi."

State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) posted on Facebook Sunday that he wanted former Gov. Richard Codey, currently a state senator, to enter the Democratic gubernatorial primary for the right to take on Christie in November., which first reported Lesniak's Facebook post on Sunday, reported that Codey said in November that he would consider a gubernatorial campaign this year. State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) is the only Democrat to enter the governor's race against Christie, who is enjoying a 72-percent approval rating following his work on Hurricane Sandy.

Lesniak posted on Facebook:

Codey for Governor? Christie's style has vaulted his popularity, but Codey has style also. Christie's feisty style has overshadowed his support for Romney and his policies that would cut taxes on the wealthy while putting added burdens on everyone else. Honk if you like Codey for Governor. Now that Corey Booker has chosen not to run, Codey is our Obi Wan Kenobi.

Booker, the mayor of Newark, announced last month that the will run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 instead of the governorship this year. Lesniak's reference to "Star Wars" character Obi Wan Kenobi could be interpreted as saying Codey is the Democrats' "only hope."

Lesniak's public support for Codey could end the gubernatorial hopes of Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage (D), a close Lesniak ally. Lesniak, a former state Democratic Party chairman, is the most powerful Democrat in Union County and would be able to give the county party's backing to Codey. Bollwage told HuffPost last month that he would not run if he did not receive backing from powerful party leaders.

Codey, a state senator since 1982, has served as New Jersey's governor twice since 2000, due to his service as state Senate president from 2002 to 2010. He served 14 months as the Garden State's chief executive following the resignation of Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) in 2004. In the closing days of his term, Codey signed legislation changing his title from acting governor to governor.

Codey also held the governorship for three and a half days in January 2002 due to a quirk in the state's constitution and the 2001 resignation of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Codey was part of New Jersey's five governors in a week in 2002, along with Republicans Donald DiFrancesco, John Farmer and John Bennett and McGreevey.

Codey did not seek a full gubernatorial term in 2005 despite approval ratings over 70 percent. Codey rocketed to stardom in early 2005 when he told a radio shock jock that "if I weren’t governor, I would take him outside," following the shock jock's criticism of Codey's wife's struggle with postpartum depression.

Codey was New Jersey's acting governor for a month in 2007 while Gov. Jon Corzine (D) was hospitalized. Codey was ousted as Senate president in 2010 by fellow Democrat Steve Sweeney of West Deptford, who is also considering a gubernatorial bid.

Amanda Terkel   |   January 7, 2013   10:46 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is softening his opposition to Chuck Hagel's likely nomination as Defense Secretary, saying he is willing to overlook the former Republican senator's past anti-gay remarks and positions.

"As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank told the Boston Globe in an interview. "In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things."

President Barack Obama is expected to nominate Hagel on Monday. Several Republican senators have already said they oppose Hagel's nomination, out of concern over his positions on Israel and Iran.

In 1998, Hagel called James Hormel, then-President Bill Clinton's choice for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, “openly, aggressively gay." He said Hormel's sexual orientation was an "inhibiting factor" that would prevent him from doing "an effective job."

Hagel recently apologized, saying his 1998 remarks were "insensitive."

In late December, Frank issued a blistering statement calling Hagel's opposition to Hormel "aggressively bigoted," adding, "I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major Presidential appointment."

On Monday, however, Frank sounded a more conciliatory note, saying that in light of the harsh attacks coming from Republicans, it was now important to support Hagel.

"With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed," he told the Globe.

Frank is hoping that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) will name him to replace Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is Obama's nominee to be Secretary of State.

John Celock   |   January 3, 2013    5:51 PM ET

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John Celock   |   January 3, 2013   12:18 PM ET

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is trumpeting a significant fundraising advantage over his only announced Democratic rival based on donations collected in the closing days of 2012.

The first-term Republican, who enjoys a 72 percent approval rating, said he raised more than $2.1 million in the final 36 days of 2012, the Star-Ledger reported Thursday.

State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), the only Democrat who has entered the governor's race, said she has raised almost $250,000 since launching her campaign in mid-December. Christie formally entered his bid for reelection in November, but has had political machinery in place since his 2009 election.

Christie's camp said that the donations were received via online solicitations, not through organized events.

“This is unprecedented, the speed at which the governor raised the maximum,” Christie political adviser Bill Palatucci told the Star-Ledger.

Buono, who was the first woman to serve as state Senate majority leader, boasted that fundraising exceeded goals that she set for her campaign.

"When I first decided to run for governor I knew the implications of the struggle," Buono said in a statement. "I knew I would come under attack by Governor Christie and I knew it would be no easy road to the Democratic nomination."

Democrats are continuing to organize against Christie, who has enjoyed high approval ratings in the wake of his response to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Garden State. Patriot Majority, a national 527 group run by Democratic strategist Craig Vartoga, unveiled on Wednesday a new anti-Christie website, called Chris Christie Exposed.

The website criticizes Christie's economic record, including rising unemployment in the state. The site also includes a map detailing Christie's national travels for Republican candidates during the 2012 election, a frequent target for Democrats. Patriot Majority spokesman Sean Darcy confirmed over the summer that a tracker for the group would be following Christie's travels.

In September, Lt. Gov. Kim Guaragno (R) defended Christie's out-of-state travel to The Huffington Post, saying it has raised the state's profile and made her role as Christie's economic development czar easier. Guadagno also defended the state's unemployment rate, saying it increased under the governor's watch because unemployed people from other states moved to New Jersey looking for work.

Several other Democrats, including state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland), Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell have been mentioned as potential gubernatorial candidates. Sweeney and Bollwage both confirmed to HuffPost that they are considering entering the race.

Amanda Terkel   |   December 29, 2012    3:30 PM ET

Florida took center stage in the 2012 elections, when voters around the state had to wait in line at the polls for up to nine hours. Gov. Rick Scott (R) initially denied that there was any problem, saying it was "very good" that people were getting out to vote.

But a new study shows that tens of thousands of people were actually discouraged from voting because of the long lines.

According to an analysis by Theodore Allen, an associate professor of industrial engineering at Ohio State University, as many as 49,000 individuals in Central Florida did not vote because of the problems at the polls.

About 19,000 of those people would have backed former GOP nominee Mitt Romney, while the rest would have gone for President Barack Obama, according to Allen.

The Orlando Sentinel, which published the results of Allen's research, notes that those findings suggest "that Obama's margin over Romney in Florida could have been roughly 11,000 votes higher than it was, based just on Central Florida results. Obama carried the state by 74,309 votes out of more than 8.4 million cast."

Since the elections, Scott has admitted that his state still has its share of electoral problems. In a December interview with CNN, Scott said "we've got to restore confidence in our elections," pointing to three issues: the length of ballots, size of polling places and the number of days for early voting.

Indeed, Allen's research also found that the long ballots that confronted many Florida voters led to longer lines, which resulted in suppressing turnout. Black and Hispanic voters were disproportionately disenfranchised.

The GOP-controlled legislature reduced the number of days available for early voting from 14 to eight for the 2012 elections, meaning voters were trying to cast their ballots in a shorter window, which resulted in longer lines.

Scott refused to extend early voting hours even as problems at the polls gained more attention. Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was a Republican while in office but is now a Democrat,- called his position "indefensible."

Democratic state lawmakers in Florida have introduced legislation to address the long lines and expand early voting hours. There have also been several efforts at the federal level, and Obama has said it is imperative to "fix" problems at the polls.

John Celock   |   December 28, 2012    2:17 PM ET

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) said his push for new voter identification requirements and other election law changes stopped 90 percent of past voter problems in the state.

Kobach told The Associated Press that his push for the state's voter identification laws -- implemented during this year's election -- along with coming provisions requiring proof of citizenship to vote helped reduce voting problems. Kobach said that his office did not have any reported cases of voter fraud this year. He is seeking to expand his office's power to investigate and prosecute voter fraud cases in Kansas. Democrats oppose the move however, saying Kobach and his office are election administrators, not prosecutors.

"It's such a strange argument, the idea that we don't want to take election crimes seriously because the current secretary of state is a conservative," Kobach told the AP .

Kansas' leading Kobach opponent, state Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) told The Huffington Post she takes issue with Kobach's claim to have reduced voter fraud by 90-percent.

“Hey, they could have prevented 100 percent since there were no past problems," Mah said. "A 100 percent of nothing is nothing.”

Mah, the ranking Democrat on the state House Elections Committee, said that while she is leaving the Legislature next month, she plans to continue opposing Kobach's voter proposals. She said she is researching the votes not counted this year because the voter could not provide identification. Mah found several cases of senior citizens who wanted to vote but could not provide the necessary identification, she said.

Under Kansas law, voters have up to seven days following the election to provide a valid photo ID to county election officials to have their ballot counted. Five hundred ballots statewide were not counted this year due to lack of proper identification.

Mah is leaving the state legislature following her narrow defeat in November by a Kobach-backed candidate. Mah did achieve a federal court victory over Kobach following the election, receiving permission to have the names and addresses of all voters in her district who were given provisional ballots. Kobach had objected, but Mah said she wanted to contact the voters to let them know about submitting an ID in the seven-day window.

Mah is considered a likely candidate for the Legislature or secretary of state in 2014 and said she will be presenting recommendations of her own to state lawmakers next year. She still has questions about Kobach's logic.

“When you make up a problem, it’s pretty easy to stop it," Mah said. "I didn’t hear about anyone dropping over with a heart attack at the polls; I think he stopped that, too.”

Ariel Edwards-Levy   |   December 28, 2012   11:11 AM ET

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) is accusing his former campaign manager of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars, The Dallas Morning News reported Friday.

Dewhurst's campaign said Kenneth "Buddy" Barfield, a supporter since 1998, stole at least $600,000 while managing Dewhurst's campaigns, including his 2010 reelection and his unsuccessful 2012 run for Senate. Dewhurst's campaign committee has since filed amended finance reports on many of his past races.

Barfield is accused of taking money from Dewhurt's campaign funds since 2008, according to the Morning News:

After Dewhurst and his top aides confronted him, Barfield offered to repay the money — but was unable to do so, one campaign official said. Officials then alerted the Travis County district attorney’s office on Dec. 20, asked for an investigation and submitted revised reports to the ethics commission....

Rob Johnson, a spokesman for the lieutenant governor, said Thursday that Dewhurst was “shocked and dismayed that a former senior trusted adviser would steal from the campaign account for his own personal gain. The proper authorities have been contacted and we will work with them and trust that the matter will be handled appropriately.”

Dewhurst lost to Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz in the Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).

John Celock   |   December 27, 2012    6:28 PM ET

A Democrat raising funds to run for a New Jersey state Assembly seat has not ruled out endorsing the reelection of Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Hoboken Councilman Ravi Bhalla (D) told that he would consider endorsing the first-term incumbent governor's 2013 reelection campaign, citing a need for local officials -- including himself and Mayor Dawn Zimmer (D) -- to have a good relationship with Christie. The governor enjoys a 72 percent approval rating.

"I'm not committed to any candidate," Bhalla told "I think the governor is a formidable contender right now. The Democrats need a formidable contender. The governor has done great things for Hoboken. He's been an extraordinary partner with Mayor Zimmer. We want to make sure we have a strong relationship with the governor."

Bhalla, who lost an Assembly race in 2011, is raising funds to run for the state legislature again in 2013, and has scheduled fundraising events in New York and California. His favorable comments about Christie come amid rising tensions in the perennially fractured Hudson County Democratic Party, with some county Democrats engaging in public flirtations with Christie and other Republican leaders.

No statewide Republican candidate has prevailed in Hudson County since Gov. Tom Kean's (R) 1985 reelection that won 70 percent of the vote statewide. Republican Bret Schundler won three nonpartisan races for Jersey City mayor, but lost Hudson County in his 2001 gubernatorial bid.

State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City), who represents the same legislative district where Bhalla is seeking an Assembly seat, has been Christie's most prominent Democratic supporter in the state legislature. Stack, also Union City's mayor, described Christie in 2011 as "the greatest governor this state has ever had."

Jersey City mayoral candidate Steve Fulop (D) has come under fire from incumbent Mayor Jerry Healy (D) for a campaign fundraiser co-hosted by a prominent Republican operative. Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing Township), a former state Democratic Party chairwoman, called Fulop's Republican backing "frightening." Fulop's spokesman has said the Republican operative, Brian Nelson, was not a co-host, but rather "a decade-long friend." Nelson described himself as a co-host in an email invitation to the fundraiser. Healy also received GOP backing in his past campaigns.

State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) is the only announced Democrat gubernatorial candidate, but state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage (D) are exploring candidacies. Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) said last week that he would not run for governor this year, and instead would seek a U.S. Senate seat in 2014.