Mel Evans / AP
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, listens as Democratic challenger Barbara Buono answers a question during their debate at Montclair University on Tuesday.
The final gubernatorial debate between New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono didn't lack for entertainment value, but probably won’t do anything to jeopardize an expected re-election landslide victory for the potential 2016 presidential candidate.
While their jabs may have indicated a close fight, polls show that the Nov. 5 contest is anything but. Recent polls show Christie favored by between 20 and 30 points.
Buono sought to tie Christie to Congressional Republicans, whose approval ratings have plummeted in the wake of the ongoing government shutdown.
The Garden State governor said both parties are to blame as is President Barack Obama for failing to facilitate a deal between the two sides. Christie, who met with congressional Republicans last week, said, "I told them to get the government reopened and to do their job -- which is to run the government, not shut it down.”
Buono shot back that Christie had helped get such conservatives who were "holding the American people hostage" elected, and that he was equally culpable.
"He got the architects of the shutdown elected," said Buono. "He's as guilty as the guy driving the train off the cliff."
The debate started with a sharp exchange between the two when Christie was asked if he regrets some of the "harsh" rhetoric he's used against his opposition, including calling some "jerks" or "idiots," the ever-blunt Christie didn’t mince words in saying voters could expect more of the same if he wins a second term.
"When folks act in a certain manner I’m going to call them out," said Christie. "I think that's the way most people in New Jersey are."
Buono jabbed back that such a response was "disrespect for people's opinions" and wasn't indicative of "strong leadership."
That heated exchange set the tone for the 90 minute debate. While Buono embraced her underdog role -- boasting that as a woman in rough and tumble New Jersey politics she was “dogged” and “never [gave] up” -- it was Christie was also always ready with a witty retort.
Echoing refrains from their first debate last week, Buono hit Christie for trips outside of the Garden State to help other GOP candidates and boost his national profile ahead of a possible bid for the White House.
"The governor is running, we already know it, he's already gone, and I think we should return the favor on Nov. 5," said Buono.
Christie wouldn't commit to whether he'd serve out his term, saying only he “had no idea what the next four years would bring me.”
The two also sparred over Christie's work to rebuild the state in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last year. While Christie has been lauded for his leadership and quick response in the wake of the devastating storm -- and has enjoyed high approval ratings that have never really deflated since last October -- Buono criticized his decision to focus on rebuilding many commercial aspects of the state before focusing on rebuilding the Jersey Shore and famous boardwalk.
“I think the governor did a great job during the Sandy aftermath,” said Buono. “I just wish we could see that governor again.”
Christie vigorously defended his leadership in the wake of the storm, especially in comparison to their neighboring states, saying he was “proud of the job our administration has done.”
The differences between the two candidates were also vividly apparent on the issue of gay marriage. With same-sex marriage set to become legal October 21, Christie's administration has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Christie again reiterated that while he personally believes marriage is "between one man and one woman," that if the issue were brought before voters and approved in a referendum, he would uphold it.
Buono, whose daughter is gay, charged that Christie had “consistently aligned his social views with Sarah Palin and the Iowa GOP caucus,” not with New Jersey.
In response to a hypothetical question from one panelist, Christie said that even if one of his children came out to him, it still wouldn’t change his position.
“If my children came to me and said they were gay, I would grab them and hug them and tell them I loved them,” said Christie, “but that their dad still believes marriage is between one man and one woman.”