Energized, looser and far more focused than in her initial encounter with Chris Christie, Barbara Buono tried to redefine the popular incumbent during their second and final debate Tuesday.
With polls showing the governor sailing majestically toward re-election, the state Senator from Middlesex County roiled his shining seas a bit during their 90-minute joint appearance at Montclair State University. Buono's lively barrage of barbs even jostled Christie's calm, although the proudly acerbic governor never lost his cool, dodging deftly and managing to land a few, too.
In the evening's first five minutes, Buono characterized Christie as a bully allied with a "Boardwalk empire of New Jersey bossism." The governor was visibly displeased.
"If you're going to start throwing stones," he warned, "you'd better get out of your glass house."
Undeterred, Buono cited a comment Christie made in the first debate when asked about his presidential ambitions ("I can walk and chew gum at the same time'), inquiring which of the two tasks the governor likens to running the Garden State.
"There you go again," she said a few moments later, echoing Ronald Reagan's immortal jab at Jimmy Carter. She dusted off the line after the governor blamed the Obama adminstration for the slow pace of settling some Sandy-related insurance claims; the governor, to his credit, went on to praise the president's overall assistance after the storm.
Buono rarely let up, characterizing Chrisite as having "wilted" under pressure from the gun lobby, and "catered" to his party's right wing by opposing marriage equality.
And when Christie described her as in thrall to her "public sector union pals," she shot back, "I'm not in the pocket of anyone."
In moments like those, Buono was effective, appealing (she even seemed to be enjoying herself), and "real."
Rather like Chris Christie.