Chris Christie Challenger Barbara Buono Lost Amid Obama Fanfare

Don't forget about challenger Barbara Buono as Christie, Obama tour New Jersey.

ByABC News
May 29, 2013, 8:17 AM

May 29, 2013 -- While President Obama played arcade games Tuesday with Gov. Chris Christie at the New Jersey shore, there was no sign of the Democrat who's challenging Christie for governor.

Instead, state Sen. Barbara Buono was reduced to tweeting, "@BuonoForNJGov It was great to meet with @BarackObama today as we cheer the shore's re-opening: a testament to all we accomplish when we work together. –BB"

Even that appears to be a stretch, given that Buono was part of a group of about 30 state and local officials, Democrats and Republicans, who met with the president Tuesday before he spoke in Asbury Park, N.J., according to a pool report.

So goes the overshadowed, long-shot challenge that Buono is waging against a Republican governor who has no qualms about cozying up to a Democratic president to the benefit of New Jerseyans still in need of post-Superstorm Sandy assistance.

READ MORE: The Note: Jersey Shore Edition

Obama seems to be equally smitten with Christie, so it's Buono who stands to lose the most politically absent any resounding endorsement from the president, which seems to matter little to Obama and, of course, even less to Christie, political observers say.

"It's certainly a slap in the face to Democrats in the state of New Jersey to spend more time with the Republican gubernatorial candidate than his Democratic challenger and you don't raise money for the Democratic challenger," said New York City Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who has worked on campaigns in New Jersey.

"Presidents don't do anything accidental because their time is valuable. … The Republican opponent means more to this president than the Democratic challenger. It's something Democrats won't forget."

Sheinkopf added that it's a "clear way to talk to Republicans and showing the president wants to be bi-partisan and it will be seen as unfair to potential presidential candidates like [N.Y. Gov.] Andrew Cuomo and [Maryland Gov.] Martin O'Malley. It's not helpful to Democrats and the grousing will continue until the president's term ends."

The pool report, citing a senior administration official, said there was a photo line Tuesday for the group of state and local officials, but no separate meeting between Obama and Buono.

The White House has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Christie introduced Obama Tuesday on their political odd-couple trip to the Jersey Shore six months after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the region. It was a reunion of sorts after Christie stood next to him in the wake of Sandy days before the November election, praising the president, which earned Christie some harsh words at the time from some Republicans.

In his introduction, Christie embraced a bipartisan message, saying that the concern for the people of New Jersey and the desire to get people back to the shore means more than politics.

"Everybody came together, Republicans, Democrats, independents," Christie said. "We all came together because New Jersey is more important and our citizens' lives are more important than any kind of politics at all.

The images of Christie and Obama hanging out together can only help his re-election in the blue state, but even before he spent part of the day playing carnival games and touting their work together re-building the shore, Buono, 59, had a tough mountain to climb.

The most recent poll from NBC News-Marist out earlier this month has Christie beating Buono by 32 points, 59 percent to 27 percent.

In an interview with ABC News before the president's trip, Buono said she is always asked why she wants to run against Christie and her answer is, "How could I not run?"

"Look at the shape our state is in," Buono said. "The middle class has been shrinking since Chris Christie took office and the New Jersey I grew up in, the New Jersey where I had opportunities and it was a place where if you worked hard enough that anything was possible and I had those opportunities and I think that they're slipping away."

Buono has served in the New Jersey state Senate since 2002 and before that as a member of the state legislature since 1994. She served as the chair of the Budget Committee, the first woman to do so before becoming majority leader in the state Senate, also the first woman in that role.

She was born in Newark and grew up in Nutley, N.J., putting herself through college and law school with some help from education loans, grants, and Social Security death benefits after her father, an Italian immigrant who was a butcher, died when she was 19. She's married and the mother of four.