The more Chris Christie tries to reassure New Jersey voters that his sole focus is tending to the Garden State, the more his as-yet unannounced candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination gathers steam.
It’s why the overriding message of his gubernatorial campaign has been: “I’m the man who can fix the Republican Party and win the White House.”
On Tuesday Christie will almost certainly coast to a comfortable victory in solidly blue-state New Jersey. A poll of likely N.J. voters by Fairleigh Dickinson University over the weekend found he held a 59 percent to 40 percent lead over his challenger, longtime Democratic state senator Barbara Buono, who is virtually unknown outside of the Garden State and hasn’t been able to chip away much at the Christie lead.
A Quinnipiac University poll out on Monday gave Christie an even wider margin at 61 percent to 33 percent. “With his appeal to independent voters, and even Democrats, Christie-for-President 2016 begins a few minutes after 8 o’clock [Tuesday] night,” predicted Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.
A lawyer and former U.S. attorney, Christie leapt to national stardom in 2011 as a blunt-talking conservative governor willing to confront a Democratic state bureaucracy and its public employee unions to wipe out a large budget deficit. In his first term, he blasted critics of his tough budget-cutting measures and said more than once, “We should be telling people how we think and how we feel – and let them judge us up or down.”
Christie’s most recent political ascension has been stoked, ironically perhaps, by the media frenzy over the new book, Double Down, Game Change 2012, by Mark Halperin and John Heileman, which alleges that the Mitt Romney campaign had problems with Christie as a potential VP pick. The campaign had pressing questions about Christie’s chronic lateness to campaign events, questions about his previous lobbying work and even questions about his health and weight – all of which went unsatisfactorily answered. They looked at Christie seriously but ultimately dismissed him in favor of Paul Ryan.
That was then.
Last Sunday, Romney jumped into the fray on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and said that if Christie were to win the GOP nomination for president in 2016, he could “save our party and help get this nation on the right track again.”
Romney added, “Chris Christie stands out as one of the very strongest lights in the Republican Party.”
Christie, though, for the moment at least, says he’s busy fighting important fiscal battles in N.J. He wants to “end the abuse of sick pay throughout the state,” as he said in his first debate this fall against Buono, by getting rid of $1 billion to retiring public employees.
He also wants to change the civil service system in New Jersey, potentially affecting how thousands of state public employees are hired, promoted and fired.
He’s in favor of cutting income taxes, expanding tax cuts for business and slowing the growth of New Jersey’s very high property taxes (they’re highest in the nation, averaging $8,100 per year) by closing loopholes in the 2-percent cap on local spending.
“I want to get back at the tax situation in the state. We need to do that,” Christie told The (Newark) Star-Ledger. “I want to get at civil service reform, sick leave reform, and the other tool kit items that I think are important to make more progress on property taxes than we’ve made already.”
Buono has accused Christie of catering to “those already at the top while turning his back on the middle class and working poor.” Christie has three times vetoed a millionaire’s tax in New Jersey (the first one was for those with incomes over $500,000 a year). Buono has said she would reinstate that if elected.
At a campaign event in Mount Holly on Sunday, Christie reiterated that a vote for him as governor means a “better four years for New Jersey.” He cited federal Labor Dept. data indicating the state has gained more than 140,000 private-sector jobs during his governorship. “People are not moving out of this state like they were before,” Christie said, according to The Star-Ledger. “We’re making this state better.”
Still, it all comes back to 2016. The governor has pointedly refused to rule out seeking the GOP nod for the presidency – perhaps wisely so. “In this polarized political environment, the degree of support that Christie has in a ‘blue’ state is something that is likely to distinguish him from other Republican leaders,” said Krista Jenkins, director of Fairleigh Dickinson’s PublicMind polling group, in a statement.
It’s why a Christie victory on Tuesday would likely “set the terms for the next phase of the debate within the Republican party about the way forward,” Dan Balz wrote in The Washington Post on Monday. “If Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) has become the symbol of the GOP’s Tea Party wing, Christie is poised to become the anti-Cruz.”