Governor Chris Christie and Democrat challenger Barbara Buono went head-to-head in their first debate of the gubernatorial election talking jobs, taxes, gay marriage, the athletic department controversy at Rutgers and Christie's presidential ambitions.

(L-R) Senator Barbara Buono (D) and Governor Chris Christie (R) debate at William Paterson University (WCBS TV)

William Paterson University in Wayne was the setting for the debate, the first of two before the November election.

Christie was asked point blank by moderator Kristine Johnson from WCBS TV if he will be running for president; the governor says he is not ruling out a run and he won't decide until he has to. Buono believes Christie's policies on women's health and gay marriage are already geared toward Republican primary voters.

During tonight’s debate the topic of same sex marriage was addressed. Governor Christie said people of good will can have differences of opinion about the issue, but he believes the institution of marriage is between one man and one woman and if we’re going to change the definition of it, that shouldn't be decided by 121 politicians in Trenton or 7 Judges on the Supreme Court.  It should be up to the people of New Jersey.

State Senator Buono said marriage is a human right and the Governor should do the right thing for our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and allow it, not challenge it. She also said the issue should not be put on the ballot as the Governor has suggested.

Debate host and panelists (WCBS TV)

While Christie has the reputation as speaking his mind and being blunt, Buono got  number of digs in at the Republican. At one point, the Governor referred to the horrible shape New Jersey was in fiscally when he took over 4 years ago. Senator Buono barked “Governor you have to man up, you’ve been in office for 4 years. It’s time to own your record and defend your record.”

Christie, when asked to name a good quality about Buono, called her a good mother and praised her time as a public servant. Buono said he was "good on late night TV" but not good for New Jersey.

Christie defended his own blluntness. "Using direct and blunt language is something I've done my whole life. It's the way my mother raised me," Christie said. "I am who I am. And I'm not going to change. I think they're comfortable with the leadership I've provided over the last 4 years in this state."

He also touted his ability to reach consensus with New Jersey's Democrat-led Legislature, and will contrast his signature bipartisan achievements of ending lifetime teacher tenure and winning benefits concessions from public-sector unions with the gridlock in Washington that has led to a government shutdown.

Christie pledged that if he’s re-elected, he’ll continue to be himself and work hard. Buono said after her immigrant grandparents came to this country, she is an example of the American Dream, and she added if elected she’ll lift up the middle class.


The Lieutenant Governor candidates will meet in their single debate on Friday night at Kean University. Christie and Buono will debate again at Montclair State University on Wednesday, October 15 at 7 p.m.

David Mathau and the Associated Press contributed to this report