New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the Conservative Political Action Conference. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press / AP)
By Carla Marinucci
February 26, 2015
Updated: February 26, 2015 – 4:22pm
Not so long ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the brash, rising star of the Republican Party who felt confident enough to pick a fight with the governor of another big state, Jerry Brown, dismissing him as “an old retread” who would deliver a “failed record” for California.
Now, as Christie prepares to deliver the keynote address at this weekend’s state GOP convention in Sacramento, things are a bit different.
Democrat Brown is riding high after winning re-election in November, the fourth time he’s won the governor’s race. Meanwhile, Christie’s poll numbers are so low in New Jersey, “he couldn’t even get elected in his own state,” says Bob Ingle, a political reporter who has covered Christie for 15 years and is co-author of “The Soprano State,” a best-selling book about New Jersey politics.
And on the national front, as two other Republican governors, Jeb Bush of Florida and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, have risen in the public view, Christie has been downgraded to an afterthought in the 2016 presidential race. Christie’s abrasive personal style and questions about his lavish spending in office are apparently taking a toll, with reports suggesting key supporters are fleeing to rival campaigns.
Then there’s the lingering political damage done by “Bridgegate” — the controversy that arose when traffic lanes were closed in September 2013 on the George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, N.J., and Manhattan, allegedly by an aide as political payback against a mayor who hadn’t endorsed Christie during his re-election campaign for governor. A federal investigation of the closure is ongoing.
Christie, Ingle says, is probably “waiting to see how this all plays out” before he makes an official announcement about a run for the White House in 2016.
For California Republicans, who don’t hold a single statewide office and lag 14 points behind Democrats in voter registration, the question becomes: Why pick Christie, whose poll numbers are at an all-time low, to be the star of their big spring show?
“This is kind of a step-out moment for him. … How he’s received here will demonstrate his appeal to conservative Republicans all across the country,” said Jon Fleischman, publisher of the popular FlashReport.org, a conservative website.
“There’s no doubt he’s a moderate candidate, and his views on issues are not in line with conservative Republicans on many issues,” Fleischman said. And Christie “has the burden to demonstrate to all Republicans that his style goes beyond the border of New Jersey — that he’s more than just a caricature,” he said.
Must prove himself
But Christie is also dynamic and entertaining — and “nobody wants Hillary Clinton to be president,” Fleischman added. “So if he were able to convince conservatives that he would win, we would look at him. But right now, he’s viewed as a second-tier candidate — and with all his problems, he’ll have to prove himself to us.”
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