Barbara Buono, Chris Christie Challenger, Backed By Monmouth County Democrats

New Jersey Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, right, D-Thorofare,N.J., and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, left, D-East
New Jersey Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, right, D-Thorofare,N.J., and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, left, D-East Orange, N.J., listen as Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, in Trenton, N.J. Christie promised in his annual State of the State address Tuesday that New Jersey will be back "stronger than ever" after Superstorm Sandy and will do it without returning to its "old ways of wasteful spending and rising taxes." (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The only declared Democratic opponent running against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) for the gubernatorial seat in 2013 is continuing to consolidate support behind her candidacy even as Democratic Party leaders continue to search for an alternative.

Monmouth County Democratic Party Chairman Vin Gopal said that his party organization, along with 75 Democratic leaders in the county, will formally endorse state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) on Thursday evening. Monmouth County becomes the third county -- after Middlesex and Somerset -- to endorse Buono for the gubernatorial nomination. Buono, a former state Senate majority leader, entered the gubernatorial race in December.

"She is a genuine progressive, she connects with middle class voters," Gopal told The Huffington Post Monday. "It is time to rally around one candidate."

The endorsement by Monmouth County and Gopal, who is considered a rising star in New Jersey politics, comes as Buono attempts to unite Democrats behind her candidacy. Several Democratic leaders around the state continue to frantically search for an alternative to Buono, who has trailed the popular Christie in initial polls. State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland), a former governor, confirmed to The Star-Ledger on Monday that he will be traveling to Washington next week to meet with Democratic Party officials and labor leaders about funding his candidacy for governor.

Codey, who served 14 months as governor following Gov. Jim McGreevey's (D) 2004 resignation, is considered a strong candidate due to his over 70-percent approval ratings during his governorship. Codey has been a state senator since 1982 and held the governorship by virtue of being state Senate president from 2002 to 2010. He was ousted from the Senate presidency in 2010.

State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) publicly called on Codey to run last week, describing him as Democrats' "Obi Wan Kenobi," the "Star Wars" character. State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage and Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill (D-Montclair) are also considered potential gubernatorial candidates. Bollwage is considered unlikely to run without Lesniak's support, while a movement started for Gill late last week. Sweeney has long feuded with Buono.

Monmouth County is a Jersey shore county which was heavily battered by Hurricane Sandy. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) is a former Monmouth County sheriff. Gopal said that regardless of Guadagno's residency and the county's history as a GOP stronghold, he believes that Buono's platform, which emphasizes the middle class, will do well in Monmouth.

Gopal said that Buono's independence is behind the movement by party leaders to find another candidate. He dismissed concerns that a Buono candidacy would hurt down ballot candidates in November and said that with the June primary rapidly approaching, it is time for Democrats to unite. Buono is the only woman seeking a governorship in the nation this year thus far, and would be the first woman Democratic gubernatorial nominee in New Jersey history.

"It is a little disconcerting," Gopal said of the effort to find a Buono alternative. "She is not a second-tier candidate, she is a first-tier candidate. The fact that she is very independent makes her a great candidate."



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