01/17/2013 01:32 am ET Updated Jan 17, 2013

George Norcross Backs Barbara Buono For New Jersey Governor

The powerful Democratic leader in southern New Jersey is backing state Sen. Barbara Buono as a gubernatorial candidate, potentially ending the party's frantic search for an opponent to Gov. Chris Christie (R) in November.

South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross told PolitickerNJ.com Wednesday night that he was throwing his support behind Buono (D-Metuchen), the only announced candidate, in her bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Norcross' support comes as Democratic leaders have been searching for an alternative to Buono, who has trailed Christie in initial polls. State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland), a former governor, has emerged as the principle alternative to Buono in recent days, but Norcross indicated he did not want Codey, a longtime nemesis.

Norcross described Buono as "a high-quality candidate" and said "in the absence of anyone else" Democrats should unite behind her.

PolitickerNJ.com reported that Norcross did not mince words when describing his opposition to Codey.

“I’ve never had any confidence in Dick Codey’s courage and I don’t expect that to change,” Norcross said. “I think he likes to have people say, ‘Run Dick run’ and I think at the end of this period we will look back and say, ‘This looks like the Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers fiasco that played out over four cycles and the party will be in a position where we don’t have a standard-bearer and aren’t in a position to compete in the election this year.'”

Norcross' backing will likely hand Buono support from county Democratic organizations throughout South Jersey and from elected officials in the region, who largely take their cue from Norcross, a Christie ally. Buono has already picked up the support of Democratic leaders in Middlesex, Somerset and Monmouth counties.

Codey, backed by powerful North Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth), has emerged as the principle alternative to Buono in recent days, following merry-go-round of potential opponents to Buono. Rep. Bill Pascrell has ruled out a gubernatorial run, while state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage both told HuffPost that they were considering campaigns. Last week, a movement started for Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill (D-Montclair) to make a bid for the governor's mansion. Norcross' support for Buono likely ends Sweeney's gubernatorial hopes, given the close relationship between the men.

Codey is planning a trip to Washington next to rally national support for his candidacy, including his goal of seeking roughly $30 million in outside funding for his campaign. Codey's ambitious goal would be just shy of the $40 million in outside funds spent last year in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Codey told PolitickerNJ.com that he was not surprised that Norcross opposed him.

Democrats have been calling for the search to end, warning of the impact on the party.

"I think the party will unite behind a candidate," Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley told HuffPost Wednesday. "We need to unite soon or it will be the destruction of our party in New Jersey."



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