As hurricane floodwaters continued to rise in New Jersey this week, so did the national profile of the Governor, Chris Christie. Jacket off and sweating under the sun, the about-to-turn 49-year-old governor has mingled with the stricken, let them weep on shoulder, felt their pain – and sounded off relentlessly about the need for disaster relief from the federal government.
His efforts, and his presence, have been striking a chord, not just with local residents but also with political strategists. “Christie [has] handled the hurricane crisis perfectly,” Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, told The Fiscal Times Thursday. “It only serves to help him should he run for higher office. He is viewed by many in the GOP as a leader who could defeat President Obama in 2012.”
Brad Bannon, a Democrat strategist, agrees: “The GOP candidate with the best chance to beat the President is not running for President.” Christie, of course, has repeatedly and adamantly declared that he’s not running for the White House in 2012. But Bannon makes this observation: “The GOP political establishment is still looking for a candidate like Christie to stop Perry. And Perry’s splash in the polls shows that the Republicans are still looking around, so the race is fluid. There is still an opening, but the door is closing.”
Many New Jersey towns are still flooded, with businesses, schools and vital infrastructure severely compromised. With floodwaters finally beginning to recede in some places and homeowners beginning to pick up the pieces of their waterlogged lives, Christie is maintaining a formidable public presence. On Wednesday,, while touring Lincoln Park, he chastised the federal government for not providing needed aid to the disaster victims in his state – never mind budget cuts.
Christie was responding to the demand from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that any relief offered to victims of the hurricane be offset by spending cuts in other parts of the budget. “Nobody was asking about offsetting budget cuts in Joplin,” Christie said, referring to Joplin, Missouri, hard-hit by a tornado this past May. “And I don’t want to hear about the fact that offsetting budget cuts have to come first, before New Jersey citizens are taken care of.”
He also took a swipe at the prolonged debt-ceiling wrangling in Washington. “You want to figure out budget cuts, that’s fine. You’re going to turn it into a fiasco like that debt-limit thing, where you’re fighting with each other for eight or nine weeks. And you expect the citizens of my state to wait? They’re not going to wait. And I’m going to fight to make sure that they don’t.”
New Jersey was declared a federal disaster area on Wednesday.
Christie told reporters Wednesday how his family was affected during Hurricane Floyd in 1999: “We lost everything we owned. So I understand the emotional feeling.” He said he saw pictures of his four children literally “disintegrate from the acrid flood water.”
On his Twitter feed Thursday morning, Christie wrote: “NJ needs support now & that’s not a Republican or Democratic issue. Shdnt be turned into one.” He previously said: “Down to under 200,000 without power from high of 850,000. I know it stinks, but pls hang in there—help coming soon.”
Unlike New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who handled the crisis from a podium, or New York City’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who flanked himself with a steady cast of city officials while speaking to the press, Christie has been out and about both before and after Hurricane Irene sliced through his state, walking the walk.
While urging New Jersey residents to take proper precautions for their safety and well being last weekend, Christie barked at people to “get the hell off the beach.” After the storm, when some roads were clear again, and looking ahead to the economically important Labor Day weekend in the state, Christie’s second-in-command, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, jokingly told people on Monday, “Get the hell back on the beach.”
If Republicans remain hungry for a white knight, they may be looking more and more to Chris Christie. “[Rick] Perry and [Michele] Bachmann are self-destructive,” said Democratic strategist Bannon. “Both of them are Tea party darlings who will scare off the moderate independent suburban voters who will choose the next president in November 2012.
“Mitt Romney has only a slightly better chance than I do of winning the GOP nod. The Tea Partiers hate RomneyCare, and the social conservatives can’t trust a politician who once said he would be more pro gay rights than Ted Kennedy.” Bannon added, “Christie is the governor of a Northeastern suburban state. He is conservative on economic issues but a social moderate. What more could the GOP want?
“For him to run. That’s what.”