Christie Stars in NJ Tourism Ads, Dems Cry Foul

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his family are starring in television commercials that are part of a publicly funded $25 million tourism campaign to encourage people to visit the Jersey Shore after Superstorm Sandy, but Democrats say they are simply taxpayer-funded campaign ads.

The ad campaign called "Stronger Than The Storm" launched last week with its first ad, but five more begin today. Supporters of Christie note the ads are not just running in New Jersey, but out of state as well.

In the first ad, Christie and his family are visible at the end of the 30 second commercial. First lady Mary Pat Christie says, "The Jersey Shore is open." Christie's son Andrew then says: "The word is spreading" before Christie himself says "We're stronger than the storm," followed by his daughter Bridget saying, "You bet we are!"

The six ads are part of a television and radio roll out that includes a digital campaign, billboards in high-profile spots like Times Square and the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel, as well as an official roll out May 24, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. The kick off is a five mile ribbon cutting that spans across Seaside Heights, around the businesses and down the shore. Simultaneously, other parts of the shore will hold similar ribbon cuttings. They believe it will break the Guinness World Record for ribbon cutting.

According to Shannon Eis of MWW, the firm that won the bid to make the ads, they will run in New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and other parts of Pennsylvania as the primary push. The secondary markets are Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, upstate New York, and eastern Canada. The ads provide Christie extra face time in the pricey New York and Philadelphia markets through July, the markets that New Jersey residents are included in. They will run in a scaled-back schedule the rest of the summer in August and September.

The campaign of Christie's gubernatorial opponent Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono say these are just campaign ads charged to the taxpayer. In a statement Buono said "the hard-working and resilient people who have rebuilt their businesses and homes after Sandy should have been the star of these ads."

"That Gov. Christie would allow $25 million in federally-funded ads to feature him in the middle of an election year is both supremely arrogant and wildly inappropriate," Buono said.

The Democratic Governor's Association is also making their displeasure known with spokesperson Danny Kanner saying, "Chris Christie loves to promote a 'New Jersey Comeback' that never happened, but his use of Sandy recovery dollars to promote his own re-election campaign is nothing short of shameless."

The money is coming from part of the $60 billion in federal emergency disaster funding earmarked for New Jersey and other Northeastern states ravaged by Sandy. The package was approved by both Congress-o ver the cries of some Republicans who called it wasteful-as well as the Obama administration.

Christie defended himself at a campaign event, according to the New Jersey Star Ledger who first reported the existence of the ads, saying, "I'm happy and proud to have me and my family in those ads and I hope that what they do is they bring people to the Jersey Shore. There's nothing political about the ads."

Eis recounted for ABC why they decided to go with Christie as opposed to another face of New Jersey. She said there were "no shortage of celebrities" that offered their services, but even before they pitched the idea to the governor's office they did consumer research which she said made it clear Christie would be the most effective choice.

"We had to think about who is the most effective person to…literally wave the flag that we are back," Eis said, noting that research showed that even months later Christie's call to "get the hell off the beach" is what people remembered.

"The governor's voice came through loud and clear," Eis said, noting they were fighting a "massive consumer perception" that the beach is still closed due to the storm.

Christie's spokesperson Colin Reed said the decision to include Christie and his family was a "creative decision by the Stronger Than The Storm campaign."

"They are in a uniquely qualified position to tell a very wide audience beyond New Jersey that our state and our Shore is open for business," Reed said in a statement.

It's not unprecedented in the state for governors to star in ads. In 2007, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine starred in a PSA to wear seatbelts. It was the same year he sustained serious injuries when he was in a car accident and was not wearing a seatbelt. It came two years before his 2009 face off against Christie, which he lost. Democratic Gov. Tom Kean also starred in a tourism ad for the state when he was governor in the 1980s. It was named "New Jersey and you, Perfect Together."

Buono is out with her own digital ad Monday aiming to introduce herself to New Jersey voters, while poking fun at the pronunciation of her own last name.

Christie's ad controversy may be getting some heat from Democrats, but he is still beating Buono by a wide margin in recent polls. A poll out earlier this month from NBC News/Marist has Christie up 34 points over Buono 62 percent to 28 percent.

It comes at the same time former Democratic governor of New Jersey Brendan Byrne has publicly called for Buono to think about withdrawing from the race due to her poor poll numbers and dismal fundraising. In a New Jersey Star Ledger conversation with another former New Jersey governor Sunday, Tom Keane Byrne noted Buono is "way behind."

"I was way behind in 1977 and I was thinking, if it gets worse, I'm going to withdraw," Byrne said. "It didn't get worse. As a matter fact, it got better. But at one point I thought of dropping out in favor of a better-positioned candidate. I don't know whether that consideration would appeal to Buono, but I would advise she make that evaluation."

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