By David Siders
dsiders@sacbee.com
Published: Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012 – 8:17 am

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ripped into California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, calling him an “old retread” and suggesting – to the delight of California Republicans – that his own election in a Democratic state is proof Republicans in California could rebound.

“I cannot believe you people elected Jerry Brown over Meg Whitman,” Christie told state delegates on a rain-soaked morning at the Republican National Convention. “Jerry Brown. Jerry Brown? I mean, he won the New Jersey presidential primary over Jimmy Carter when I was 14 years old.”

The combative Christie, who is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the convention tonight, overcame a Democratic voter registration advantage in New Jersey to win election in 2009.

He has enacted billions of dollars in spending cuts to balance that state’s budget, and his bombastic style and outspoken criticism of public employee unions and teachers, among other groups, has made him popular among conservatives nationwide.

For a California delegation dogged by questions about its ability to reverse years of declining voter registration and electoral setbacks, Christie’s jabs at Brown provided some relief.

“The message I want to deliver to California this morning is: There is hope,” Christie said. “Don’t give up on the fact that California can be governed. You’ve seen it governed before, and you’ve seen it governed effectively. … California once did have great governors, like Gov. Pete Wilson, who knew how to govern the state.”

It is not uncommon for Republican politicians to mock California and its Democratic officeholders, nor is it rare for California Republicans to look outside the state for inspiration.

Christie was invited to speak at the California delegation’s Monday breakfast meeting. At their beachfront hotel, some delegates staked out positions near the podium more than an hour before Christie spoke. Frustration here with Brown, the 74-year-old, third-term governor, is second only to President Barack Obama.

“He reminded us that we are capable of making California a red state if we believe it and we work hard,” said Carol Hadley, 73, a delegate from Stockton and president of the California Federation of Republican Women. “He was uplifting.”

Wilson, who governed California in the 1990s, was in the room as Christie spoke. “I think he’s given tremendous leadership in what was supposed to be a hopelessly blue state,” Wilson said.

Christie compared the challenges facing California and New Jersey, including unemployment, state budget deficits and the lingering effect of the housing crisis. While New Jersey “decided to take a risk on a conservative Republican governor in a blue state,” Christie said, “California made the bad choice by going with an old retread.”

It is unclear whether the success of a Republican in New Jersey is as transferrable as Christie suggests or as many California Republicans may hope.

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