Chris Christie’s no longer the Democrats’ worst nightmare. He’s not even the chief concern of his Republican presidential rivals.
The New Jersey governor launched his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination Tuesday by casting himself as critical of both political parties and eager to work for compromise.
“Both parties have stood in the corner, held their breath and hoped to get their way,” Christie told supporters at Livingston High School in New Jersey, his alma mater. “If you have a good idea, I’m willing to work with you.”
It was a familiar Christie message.
It it hasn’t been working lately. His stock has plunged dramatically since he coasted to re-election in November 2013. Now he launches his bid Tuesday for the Republican presidential nomination as a long shot.
Christie was once seen as the Republican most likely to give Democrats trouble. He had not only won big in a state no Republican presidential candidate has carried since 1988, but he did well among traditional Democratic constituencies, notably Hispanics. And he won after challenging labor unions and teachers.
His no-nonsense, approachable style was also viewed as an asset. Christie was the everyman politico, dancing on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon and jokingly eating a doughnut while a guest on David Letterman’s show.
The Christie who spoke without a teleprompter or notes to supporters waving “Telling It Like It Is” signs Tuesday has a very different image now, largely the result of a series of missteps.
Even in his home state, his popularity sunk to an all-time low of 30 percent in the latest Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll.
He remains stung by controversy over the 2013 closing of access roads to the George Washington Bridge, which carries traffic from New Jersey into New York City. Officials close to Christie were instrumental in closing some of the lanes, a payback to a local mayor who refused to help Christie. Two former top Christie aides were indicted last month on federal charges they conspired to disrupt the traffic. They pleaded not guilty. Christie reiterated last month he had “no knowledge or involvement.”
But traffic tie-ups are a problem the average voter understands, and they’re less concerned with the legalities and who said what than the notion anyone close to Christie would engage in such activity.
“That seemed to be beyond the pale,” said Krista Jenkins, PublicMind director.
Traffic is always an issue
Krista Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson University
At the same time, Christie has been squeezed on the national stage. Business mogul Donald Trump has become the no-nonsense candidate of choice, pulling up to second place in the June 18-22 Suffolk University Political Research Center New Hampshire survey.
“Trump has got the angry people who hate politics and hate Washington. Christie, as an incumbent, has more trouble cutting into that,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk center.
Christie’s other sales pitch, that he can win in Democratic or swing states, is the same pushed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who plan to enter the race next month.
He’s also not the only one who’s fought unions, which appeals to Republican primary voters. Walker also fought unions and won a 2012 recall election afterward.
Christie was never a strong favorite to win the Republican nomination, particularly after he embraced President Barack Obama after Washington helped the state recover from 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.
Supporters thought Christie could overcome those qualms by showing he was the Republican best positioned to win the presidency. Christie topped Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton by 1 percentage point in late 2013 in a Quinnipiac University poll.
Latest Quinnipiac poll: Christie down 9 to Clinton. Paul and Rubio down 4.
Christie is getting into the White House race, said longtime observers, because he sees an opening, and he could benefit from low expectations.
He promised Tuesday a “campaign without spin or pandering or tested focus group answers,” and his blunt approach can be well-suited to the living room and town hall campaigning New Hampshire demands. Though Trump is getting more attention, voters in New Hampshire and Iowa have a long history of turning serious and voting for the candidate they think can do the best job, not just appeal to their emotions.
“Christie is the most charismatic one-on-one campaigner in the race – exactly the talent needed to do well in New Hampshire,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, N.J.
If Christie can win there, Murray said, “he may be able to use that to win over voters who don't like him but whose first choice of candidate has fallen by the wayside.”
Then again, he warned, that scenario “requires all the dominoes to fall his way.”
Born: Sept. 6, 1962, Newark, N.J.
Family: Wife, Mary Pat, four children.
Education: University of Delaware, B.A., 1984. Seton Hall University School of Law, 1987.
Career: Morris County (N.J.) Board of Chosen Freeholders, 1995-1998. U.S. attorney, New Jersey, 2002-2008. Governor of New Jersey, 2010-present.
Passions: Attended an estimated 129 concerts by New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen. Dallas Cowboys fan and friend of team owner Jerry Jones, remembered for their bear hug after Cowboy victory over Detroit Lions in January.