Barbara Buono Outlines Her Challenge To Chris Christie

In this Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 photograph, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reacts to a question during a news conference in Tren
In this Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 photograph, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reacts to a question during a news conference in Trenton, N.J. The Republican governor was asked about his weight problem during an interview with Barbara Walters for her “10 Most Fascinating People” special Wednesday night on ABC. Walters told the governor some people say he is too heavy to be president one day. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

A Democratic state senator who once received food stamps has emerged as the only announced challenger to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) in next year's race.

State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) became the first Democrat to enter the race against Christie last week, outlining a campaign centered around her personal story and a desire to work on economic development issues. Buono told The Huffington Post that she made the decision to run for governor based on what she perceives as Christie's failures on economic policy and that she believed the governor, who enjoys a 72-percent approval rating following Hurricane Sandy, is beatable.

"We should not accept four more years under a governor who vetoes gay marriage, funding for Planned Parenthood and tries to stack the Supreme Court with justices who share his extreme views," Buono said. "New Jersey has a lot of problems. This governor doesn't have a clue. He talks a good line about creating jobs and jump-starting the economy, but it is just talk."

Buono centers her economic pitch on partnering state government with higher education in the job creation area, including training students for high tech jobs and setting the stage for job growth. She also singles out New Jersey experiencing a rise in unemployment under Christie's governorship.

Buono's economic program also centers on reentering New Jersey in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, saying it would create green energy jobs, along with criticizing Christie's decision to turn down federal funds for the construction of a new train tunnel under the Hudson River to Manhattan.

A Christie campaign spokesman did not return calls for comment. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) told HuffPost in September that Christie has been creating jobs, noting that while the state's unemployment rate is higher than when Christie took office, the rise is due to job seekers moving to New Jersey for new jobs.

Buono's entry into the campaign comes as much of the political world waits for Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) to decide whether he'll run for governor or for the U.S. Senate in 2014. Booker, who said he'll announce a decision by the end of December, is said to be leaning toward a Senate run. In addition to Buono and Booker, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage (D) are exploring bids for governor.

"When I entered this race, my decision to enter this race did not hinge on what other candidates enter this race," Buono said. "My decision hinged on whether I could lead New Jersey in the future."

Buono, the first woman state Senate majority leader and budget committee chairwoman, will be the only woman seeking a governorship in 2013, a year which will see five women governors nationally, with New Hampshire Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan being the only Democrat. Republican Christine Todd Whitman was New Jersey's only woman governor and the only woman to be a major party nominee for governor in state history. Guadagno is the only other woman to have been elected statewide in New Jersey.

"The old boys club just does not work," she said.

Buono notes that she also believes her personal story will resonate with voters and noted it helped shaped her views on policy. Buono's father died when she was a 19-year-old college student and she said she struggled to find a job after her 1975 college graduation. Briefly on food stamps, Buono saw a fire make her apartment uninhabitable, forcing her to call the local welfare office to make an appointment to sign up for benefits. Buono did not keep the appointment after receiving help from family members.

"It is that, but it not just that," Buono said of how her past shaped her views. "It is the whole series of events that started with my father's death. It was being on my own from when I was 19. It shaped who I am. I have an empathy. I don't think I would feel it as deeply as I do if I did not have those challenges. I was lucky. People don't have those same chances anymore."