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Barbara Buono's Jon Corzine Problem Barbara Buono's Jon Corzine Problem

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Barbara Buono's Jon Corzine Problem

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(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Jon Corzine is avoiding the spotlight in New Jersey. At an event billed as "The Governor's Summit" in Newark on Thursday, Corzine will be the only living former Garden State governor not in attendance -- and he reportedly didn't even reply to the invitation. But his name and image are becoming fixtures in this year's gubernatorial race, as Republicans seek to portray likely Democratic nominee Barbara Buono as the second coming of Corzine.

The Republican Governors Association on Wednesday released its first TV ad supporting Gov. Chris Christie's reelection bid. The ad's narrator calls Buono, a state senator who once chaired the budget committee, the "architect of Corzine's budget," as a picture of the two Democrats flashes across the screen.

The RGA spot isn't the only commercial bringing pictures of the former governor into living rooms across New Jersey. Two of the four TV ads broadcast by Christie's campaign are negative spots aimed at Buono -- and both mention Corzine within the first three seconds. As in the RGA spot, one of Christie's ads refers to Buono as Corzine's budget architect, and pictures of the former governor appear throughout both Christie spots.

That's a lot of face time devoted to an opponent Christie already defeated four years ago. But the GOP's decision to make Corzine a focal point in the race stems from the fact that a lot of Garden State voters still don't know who Buono is. In Quinnipiac University's most recent New Jersey poll, conducted last month, 78 percent of New Jersey voters said they hadn't heard enough about Buono when asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Democrat. So Christie and his allies are attacking an unknown candidate by linking her to a figure with whom voters are quite familiar.

And Corzine is an inviting target. His 2009 loss to Christie was the first statewide defeat for a Garden State Democrat since 1997, and his subsequent leadership of failed brokerage firm MF Global continues to earn him negative headlines.

Buono began introducing herself to the state last week with her first television buy. Already up against a huge fundraising disparity and a 30-point deficit in the polls, Buono faces a number of obvious obstacles in her bid to unseat Christie. But Republicans appear determined to add dealing with the specter of Corzine to that list.

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