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Democrat Barbara Buono Enters NJ Governor’s Race To Challenge Christie

State Sen. Barbara Buono (credit: njleg.state.nj.us)

State Sen. Barbara Buono (credit: njleg.state.nj.us)

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — State Sen. Barbara Buono announced Tuesday she will seek the Democratic nomination for governor, accusing Republican Gov. Chris Christie of “trickle-down economics” that she said have stagnated economic growth in New Jersey and left the state with the highest jobless rate in three decades.

Buono, who has served in the Legislature since 1994, said the governor was right to declare the rebuilding of the state from Superstorm Sandy an urgent priority, but she said “that’s not the only rebuilding that needs to be done.”

“There’s another New Jersey that’s been slowly eroded by wrong priorities, poor policy choices and inexcusable neglect,” the 59-year-old mother of six said in a three-minute video announcing she had filed paperwork to be a candidate for governor.

Buono is the fourth Democrat to enter the race to challenge Christie, but the first who’s well known on the state political scene. Also in the race are Edison Planning Board member William Araujo, Glen Ridge Mayor Carl Brigmason and perpetual candidate Jeff Boss.

A handful of other better-known Democrats, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney are weighing runs.

Booker has said he will decide by the end of next week.

Sweeney said Tuesday that he’s not surprised to see Buono enter the race.

“She’s been talking about it for the past two years,” Sweeney said.

Early polls have suggested all of them now lag well behind Christie, who considered a run for president a year ago, gave the keynote speech at this year’s Republican National Convention and has seen his approval ratings soar for his handling of Superstorm Sandy.

Buono, who is not widely known statewide, trailed Christie 60-22 in a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released last month. Christie said last month that he’s seeking re-election.

Patrick Murray, a Monmouth University political scientist, said a strong showing, even in a loss to Christie, could propel a candidate to front-runner status to run for U.S. Senate in 2014, should incumbent Frank Lautenberg decide to retire. But a blow-out loss could be deeply damaging.

Murray said that despite Christie’s popularity, it is possible things could break against him in the next 11 months and that Buono or another Democrat could unseat him.

“Chris Christie’s going to win or lose this largely on his own merits,” Murray said.

For his part, Christie on Tuesday did not have much to say about Buono’s candidacy.

“I have no time for politics. I have an important job to do. I’ll engage in politics when I need to, but I don’t need to engage right now,” he told NJTV after a business forum in Woodbridge.

Buono, considered to be left of center, said in her video that she’ll push for the right for gay couples to marry and state money to support Planned Parenthood.

The Sierra Club’s New Jersey office was among the first to make a public statement welcoming her to the race, though the group said it’s not ready to make an endorsement.

The heart of Buono’s message was on economic issues.

“Today, our state has an unemployment crisis — the highest jobless rate in over three decades. Instead of bipartisan leadership, Governor Christie’s offered trickle-down economics — policies that have landed New Jersey 47th out of 50 states for economic growth,” she said. “We need a real plan to create good-paying jobs all across our state.”

In October, the state unemployment rate was 9.7 percent, above the national jobless rate of 7.9 percent.

Christie has boasted about growth of private-sector employment since he took office.

Buono, who lives in Metuchen with her husband, was born in Newark, and grew up in Nutley. Her father was a butcher, her mother an office worker and substitute teacher.

Buono graduated from Montclair State University and Rutgers Law School. She’s been a public defender and a private lawyer. She was elected in 1992 to the Metuchen Borough Council and later served as police commissioner there.

She served in the state Assembly from 1994 to 2001 and has been in the state Senate since 2002.

In 2010 and 2011, she served as majority leader, but was ousted from that role early this year.

She did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press.

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)