The fact that Barbara Buono still trails New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by 20 points appears to make it an open and shut case.

Why would any Democratic luminary  – let alone the most adored — put their skin in the game for the underdog if she’s destined for a brutal loss at the hands of a popular governor with 2016 credentials?

The Democratic establishment in New Jersey isn’t jazzed about Buono and President Obama won’t be lending a hand.

But that dynamic itself may be a powerful reason for Hillary Clinton to help.

A Buono adviser tells The RUN the campaign has reached out to the Clintons for assistance and describes the talks as being in the “preliminary stages.”

But a fall visit by either Clinton on behalf of Buono still seems like a a long shot, considering the steep odds the party’s standard-bearer faces in the Garden State contest.

Here are 3 reasons Hillaryland should toss out the traditional playbook for approaching races and dive in for Buono:

  1. She can show she’s the true team player, unlike Obama –  The images from last fall certainly remain seared in the minds of Republicans.  Obama and Christie strutting the devastated Jersey shores, paling around on the boardwalk, complimenting each other’s leadership in a time of crisis.  But even when the president returned for a tour of the rebuilding progress in May, he didn’t meet with Buono — a not so subtle slight, especially since the Buono campaign expected face-time.  A Clinton appearance with Buono could show that she’s the true team Democratic player, that she’s shed her risk-averse inclinations and that she’s willing to put her political capital to use, even under the most daunting circumstances.  ”I think it would be a favorable comparison,” said a Democratic strategist who has worked in New Jersey politics.  She’s already slated to help her old pal Terry McAuliffe in Virginia; this is the only other game to play.  And if a public appearance is too risky to the Clinton brand, a fundraiser would be half-measure that’s still appreciated. “Clinton coming here would show her as the good Dem,” said the strategist.
  2. She can rally women – If the Democratic candidate in New Jersey was just another white dude, it would be one thing, but Buono is (obviously) a female — endorsed by EMILY’s List and carrying a gritty personal story.  EMILY’s List is traveling around the country making the case that their pitch for a woman in the White House doesn’t necessarily center around Hillary.  They’re also stressing the need to promote Democratic women candidates at lower rungs of the political ladder.  Nothing would do more to affirm that goal than Hillary standing on a stage for Buono, championing how the fairer sex sometimes do things differently.  It doesn’t need to be an overt gender speech; the images alone would do the trick.
  3. The risk is minimal –  The conventional wisdom is that Buono hasn’t met the viability threshold to merit a visit by HRC.  And that Clinton would only potentially diminish herself by stumping for a loser in waiting.  But no one paying attention expects Buono to win, so setting aside the obligatory beard-scratching by some pundits, Clinton wouldn’t be punished for her (likely) loss.  Plus it’s 2013.  It’ll matter as much as Anthony Weiner’s eventual loss.  The more likely scenario is that she provides a timely bump for Buono — races tend to tighten a bit towards the close anyway.  At best, she gets credit for the lift.  Is anyone credible going to make the case that Clinton is less powerful a political force because she campaigned for Buono with a month to go — and Buono lost? The whole point of wielding popularity at her levels is putting it to use.  Those sky-high approval ratings aren’t going to survive the ’16 slog anyway; putting them to use for an underdog candidate across the bridge would be lauded by Democrats, especially women.