The political action committee founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) jumped into the New Jersey governor's race on Thursday, backing Republican Gov. Chris Christie's opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen).
Democracy for America announced Thursday that it would be backing Buono, the presumptive Democratic nominee, along with three Democratic candidates, two in Republican-leaning State Assembly districts and one for town council. Buono continues to trail Christie by over 30 points in polls, and she has also been plagued by low fundraising and a state Democratic Party that threatens to crumble around her.
"Since 2010, Chris Christie has tried to drag the consistently blue state of New Jersey to the right by blocking marriage equality, denying climate change and supporting anti-choice legislation in an effort to further his own national ambitions," DFA chairman Jim Dean said in a statement.
In addition to Buono, DFA announced backing for Democrats Marie Corfield and Ed Zipprich for State Assembly seats against GOP incumbents, and Democrat Jeff Gardner for a Hawthorne Borough Council seat.
This is DFA's second foray into state-level politics this year. In March, the group announced a "Purple to Blue" program centered on trying to elect Democrats in several competitive Virginia state House districts. The New Jersey endorsements are not part of the same program.
DFA's endorsement comes as Buono is facing a series of internal challenges in the Democratic Party, surfacing from her pick of Assemblyman Jason O'Donnell (D-Bayonne) to head the party for the next six months. State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has announced his opposition and PolitickerNJ.com reported on Thursday that U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D) also opposes the move. On Sunday, former Gov. Brendan Byrne (D) used two newspaper columns to say that Buono should reconsider her campaign. Christie is also gaining increased support from Democratic officials in the state.
Buono did released her first television commercial Wednesday, the same day Christie released another statewide commercial where he continued to tie Buono to former Gov. Jon Corzine (D) and his fiscal policies.
“I’m shocked to find it’s news that Howard Dean’s PAC is endorsing extreme liberal candidates," New Jersey GOP spokesman Ben Sparks said in an emailed statement. "I don’t think anyone in New Jersey is surprised."
But Buono is upbeat about DFA's backing.
"I am running one of the largest grassroots campaigns in New Jersey's history so it's an honor to be endorsed by one of the largest and most influential grassroots organizations in the country," she said in a statement released by DFA. "Together, Democracy for America and I will make sure that New Jersey returns to a state where everyone can get a quality education, find a good-paying job and provide for their families."
Christie campaign spokesman Kevin Roberts released a statement raising one of Christie's main attacks on Buono -- her service as a member and chairwoman of the state Senate Budget Committee -- in response to DFA's endorsement.
"This is the same Howard Dean that helped get Jon Corzine elected in 2005, setting the table for the massive tax increases, job loss and economic disaster in New Jersey that took place under Corzine's disastrous tenure," Roberts said in an email. "It's no surprise he would come back to support Barbara Buono, the budget architect of the failed Corzine years."
This post has been updated to include comment from Christie's campaign.