MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) — Struggling New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono talked about higher education policy to an audience of only journalists Thursday morning while the incumbent, Republican Chris Christie, stopped in his tour bus at a diner where a crowd mobbed him to take pictures.
Five days before their election, their contrasts of their campaign operations came through.
Only Buono, a state senator who lags far behind in polls, dove into policy issues Thursday morning, as well as telling her personal story.
She spoke at Montclair State University, her alma mater, and said she relied on tuition assistance to go both there and to law school at Rutgers.
"In Chris Christie's New Jersey, students have less access to the opportunity than I had when I was growing up and when I was here," Buono said. She said she would put more money into public education at all levels.
When Christie took office in the depths of the Great Recession, he initially cut aid to public schools. But since then, his budgets have increased funding, and last year he championed a bond issue to pay for academic facilities on public and private college campuses across the state.
But Buono said tuition at state universities has risen too much and that Christie has not abated it.
She said she nearly dropped out of college at 19 after he father died, but continued because the cost was affordable and she had help.
"Today, honestly, I couldn't do it," she said. "Rutgers Law School is over $40,000. There's something wrong with that picture."
Rutgers law school tuition is a bit under $23,000 a year, but the university says that with fees and living expenses, students can expect it to cost more than $40,000 to attend. Most students there receive some financial aid in the form of grants or loans.
Meanwhile, at Ponzio's in Cherry Hill, Christie was focused on what political operatives and analysts call retail politics — meeting people and reminding them to vote.
Beth Pfaff of Cherry Hill, who was at the diner for a meal with her 16-month-old son, Ezekiel, snapped photos as Christie talked to the boy about the french fries he was eating.
After Christie moved on, other patrons asked to see the pictures and told Pfaff that her son may have just met a future president.
While many of the people in the diner were there to see Christie, Pfaff said it was a coincidental that he came through while she was there, but said she does support him. "He's a great governor," she said.
Christie also had stops scheduled Thursday in Washington Township, Elmer, Vineland and Ocean City as his weeklong statewide bus tour continued.
He is expected to give some formal talks dealing with policy issues before voting takes place Tuesday, including a speech Friday at a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce gathering in Jersey City.
Campaign finance reports made public Thursday showed that as of Oct. 25, Christie had more than $4 million on hand for the last days of the campaign while Buono had $277,000.
Both are using public financing, which caps their overall campaign spending at $12.2 million — with nearly two-thirds of it from taxpayers.
Christie has already received the maximum match.
Buono is still working at raising money. After a request from matching funds from the state on Wednesday, she had raised nearly $1 million from donors — far short of the more than $4 million required to get the full amount from taxpayers.
Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill.