MENDHAM and METUCHEN – Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican incumbent, and state Sen. Barbara Buono, this year’s Democratic standard bearer in the New Jersey gubernatorial race, come from hometowns that share one thing – a main drag called Main Street.
But a walk down these two streets suggests that Christie and Buono will not share the same political fate following the Nov. 5 election. Conversations on Saturday night with locals on Main Street in Metuchen, where Buono lives, hinted at the twilight of her political career. Similar exchanges on Sunday morning in Mendham, where Christie lives, pointed towards not only victory in this race but also the increasing legitimacy of Christie’s chances in the next presidential contest.
At the Brewed Awakening coffeehouse in Metuchen, Christopher Taillefer percolated with discontent about Christie’s record on educational issues.
“I’m not a big fan of charter schools, and even if Christie’s intentions are good, the problem is that what he wants to institute, the potential for nepotism is just too high,” said Taillefer, 30, of Howell, a middle-school language arts teacher who is the president of his local union chapter. “Barbara Buono has the right idea about education, and I think she appreciates public sector workers. She will give them the appropriate support that they need to turn around the education system that has been ruined by Chris Christie.”
A poll released Friday by Fairleigh Dickinson University shows Christie with a commanding 19-point lead over Buono. On Saturday, Christie reportedly had a heated verbal altercation with a South Jersey public school teacher.
Amidst this contentious atmosphere, and despite the polling numbers, Taillefer felt confident about his candidate’s chances.
“I think Barbara is going to do it,” Taillefer said. “She’s starting to get out there more, and from there people will see what she’s about.”
But in Mendham, in a ladies’ clothing store on Main Street, aspiring special-needs teacher Jane Carter thinks she already knows what Christie is about.
“He’s definitely a family man, which I appreciate, and he knows what matters to his people,” said Carter, 20, of Mendham, a student who works in the store and as a nanny. “If he wins by a lot, then he climbs up more towards the presidency. I feel like he will climb up there.”
In front of Mendham Books, where the display window includes books about U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Alex Levine made a prediction, and a statement, about the 2013 gubernatorial election.
“Christie is going to win in a landslide, but I’m voting for Buono,” said Levine, of Chester, who is a project manager for a payroll services company. “I think he’s a good leader, but I don’t like that he’s not supporting teachers and blue-collar workers in our state.
“He did a good job with Hurricane Sandy, and I liked his bipartisanship with [U.S. President] Obama during that time,” added Levine. “He’s a good politician, and he’s got his sights set outside of New Jersey. If he continues to come across as bipartisan, he has a good chance to be president.”
Back at Brewed Awakening in Metuchen, Rosemarie Basarab spoke about the certain Jersey je ne sais quoi surrounding Christie.
“The shore people appreciate what he’s done regarding Sandy. I give him a lot of credit for taking the flak because he had Obama here after the hurricane. People didn’t like that, and isn’t that stupid?” said Basarab, a retired nurse from Bordentown. “Barbara Buono is a nice lady, but Christie is a Jersey guy.”
Outside of Vinnie’s Pizza, at the corner of Main Street and Amboy Avenue in Metuchen, delivery man Ahmed Khan stopped to consider whether a Jersey guy could get elected president in 2016.
“Christie handled all of the mess after Sandy,” said Khan, 35, of Edison. “He has shown leadership. He could show it anywhere, if he’s the right guy.”
Christie might have the Pizza Connection with voters this year in New Jersey. At Sorrento Pizza in Mendham, self-described “pizza guy” Anthony Cardines wiped the dough from his hands and wondered if a Jersey guy could connect with voters nationally.
“I don’t see why it couldn’t happen,” said Cardines, 43, of Hopatcong. “Maybe it’s time for someone to be president who is a little bit rude and speaks their piece. In Jersey, we don’t hold back.”