WAYNE – New Jersey’s gubernatorial candidates shared the stage for the first time of the campaign Tuesday night and the single biggest question moving forward is a simple one.
Will the performances by either Gov. Chris Christie or Sen. Barbara Buono do anything to change the dynamic of the race?
The state’s Republican incumbent holds a comfortable lead in the polls and his Democratic challenger has fought – to little avail – to tighten the race. The televised appearance, which was Buono’s inaugural run at primetime exposure, was thought by some as an opportunity for the race to become competitive.
During the first of two debates both candidates each had their moments. The crowd at William Paterson University was instructed to remain silent during the debate, but the nearly 1,000 people in attendance had to be reminded at points that cheers, applause, hoots and hollers were not allowed.
Buono told the governor to “man up” and own his record of a sputtering New Jersey economy. Christie warned “taxes will increase again, again, again and again” if Buono is elected.
“Both did exactly what we expected of them,” said Patrick Murray (pictured), director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, who predicts the event will do little to narrow the margin in the race.
Christie was “poised and controlled,” he said, exactly the qualities a candidate with a big lead should exhibit. Buono did well, perhaps “a little bit more nervous” than the governor, but a good performance, he said.
So will any of it matter? Did Buono snag a YouTube movement?
“The answer to that is no,” Murray said. “Her performance was solid, but solid means status quo, which means a double digit win for Chris Christie.”
The reason, Murray says, is because peoples’ minds are already made up.
“Everyone watching already knows who they’re going to vote for,” he said.