POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Democratic Chair Says Party Members Must Focus on 2013 Gubernatorial Race

New Jersey Democrats have their sights set on two upcoming races — the 2013 gubernatorial election and the 2014 run for Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat. New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chair John Wisniewski told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that members of his party need to focus on this year’s election before worrying about one that is more than a year off.

The Senate race next year came into the forefront after Newark Mayor Cory Booker filed exploratory papers last week that would serve as a first step in a bid for the Senate seat.

Some Democrats criticized their own party for Booker’s delayed announcement that he wouldn’t challenge Gov. Chris Christie for his position, but Wisniewski said the Democratic Party had nothing to do with the decision, though he admitted the prospect of challenging Booker in a primary may have given some potential candidates pause.

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Wisniewski said Sen. Barbara Buono, who has announced a run for governor, has three counties lined up to support her — Middlesex, Somerset and Monmouth counties. He also said Sen. Richard Codey and Senate President Steve Sweeney have expressed interest in a possible run. Wisniewski said both men are doing their due diligence before making a decision while Congressman Bill Pascrell has ruled out a run for governor.

When asked why Pascrell’s name has been thrown around despite his assertion that he won’t run for governor, Wisniewski said, “I think Bill is a very energetic, very hard charging elected official who can make any race a very exciting, very strong race and so his personality, his command of the issues automatically put him in a category of people you ought to consider. But ultimately it’s his decision, no one else’s. If he decides not to, as he has, it’s time to move on and look at other candidates.”

Christie announced that he won’t take matching funds for his Republican primary run, citing the amount of funds he has raised. But Wisniewski isn’t sure that’s the best idea.

“It’s certainly not a recipe for victory. It’s too early to tell exactly how the 2013 gubernatorial election will turn out. If you have the answer, you should let us know but I think right now what we have to do is let this process unfold,” he said. “It looks like right now that Barbara Buono is really far ahead of anybody else on her way to securing the Democratic Party nomination.”

Wisniewski once considered running against Christie as well, but decided his family and business obligations prevented him from doing so right now. “There may be other years, there may be other things, but in 2013 I’m content to be a member of the General Assembly and run for reelection and be state party chair,” he said.

According to Wisniewski, Booker was in a difficult position and needed to take action to pursue an interest in the Senate position. “If you’re going to raise money to run for Senate or to explore a run for Senate, then you need to have a committee. And so he was caught in a very difficult situation,” he said. “If he wants to explore the issue and raise money, he needs the mechanism and that got made into this announcement that he’s running.”

The Senate race shouldn’t be at the forefront of the conversation, according to Wisniewski, because it is more than a year away. “We have to focus on 2013. We have to take one step at a time. And for Democrats in New Jersey, the gubernatorial election, we’ve got 120 members of the legislature up. That’s our first priority,” he said. “We will deal with 2014 as soon as Dec. 31, 2013 hits.”