Chris Christie would be the perfect vice presidential nominee on Mitt Romney's GOP presidential ticket if he is who his supporters say he is.
However, Christie's record as New Jersey governor belies his reputation as a champion of blue-collar voters and, thus, could hurt his chances of getting the nomination and/or being a successful vice presidential nominee.
Christie, 49, has only been nationally known since he was elected New Jersey's governor in the fall of 2009. Since then, though, he has become a hero in many conservative circles for his blunt way of speaking, his ability to articulate conservative principles in easily comprehensible language, his ability to stir up emotions, and his everyman persona.
In short, Christie's supporters believe that he can persuade white working-class voters, particularly men, to support the GOP ticket. If he can, Christie will be a perfect complement to Romney - a very wealthy former business executive who has had tremendous success persuading other wealthy people to vote for him during the GOP primaries, but has had consistent problems relating to and speaking to ordinary Americans.
Republicans seem to believe that Christie will be an excellent political candidate. GOP pollster Frank Luntz told ABC News' "This Week" TV program in 2011 when many Republicans were urging Christie to run for president that the former United States Attorney's advantage over other presidential contenders was that "he's basically a blue-collar Republican."
In addition, a National Journal magazine poll of 182 political insiders rated Christie as the third-strongest GOP VP pick behind Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Senator Rob Portman.
Christie's persona doesn't match his record, critics say.
During his successful campaign against incumbent governor Jon Corzine, Christie pledged that he would oppose reducing the pension benefits of police officers and firefighters. He even put his pledge in writing.
Governor Christie, though, reneged on the promises by Candidate Christie. Within months, about 500,000 public service employees, including police officers and firefighters, had their pension benefits cut, were paying "huge increases" in health-care costs, and had their right to negotiate pensions and health-care costs in contracts eliminated, said Hetty Rosenstein, the New Jersey director of the 70,000-member Communications Workers of America union.
"Right out of the box, he really attacked collective bargaining," said Rosenstein. "He's smarter than (Wisconsin Gov.) Scott Walker in how he's done it, but his agenda is identical to Scott Walker's and he's implementing it in a very aggressive way."
With the United States trying to recover from The Great Recession, the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression of the 1930s, jobs will be a major issue during the 2012 presidential campaign. Probable GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will likely get the votes of a large percentage of Americans who believe that tax cuts for wealthy people is the best way to create jobs, but he also needs the votes of blue-collar workers looking for someone who will fight for the needs of everyday Americans. That has been Christie's appeal.
"He has a large appeal even to middle-class workers because he comes across as the kind of guy who takes charge, makes a decision, and doesn't put up with BS," said Ben Dworkin, the director of Rider (N.J.) University's Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
MEMBER OF ONE PERCENT
However, Christie's record hasn't matched his rhetoric, said Rosenstein and Dworkin.
According to an April 4 article in The New York Times, New Jersey has recovered about 20-percent of the approximately 261,000 jobs it lost during the 2007-2009 recession, while New York City has recovered about 80-percent of its lost jobs.
Christie strongly favors utilizing tax subsidies for corporations to create jobs, according to Charles V. Bagli's article. The Christie administration has used more than $900 million in taxpayer funds to help 15 companies - including Campbell's Soup, Panasonic and Prudential - create 2,364 jobs. This translates into nearly $400,000 in taxpayer money per job. The governor has also twice vetoed a bill passed by the New Jersey legislature that would have created a new and higher income-tax bracket for the state's wealthiest citizens.
Basically, Christie agrees with Romney on how to solve the nation's economic problems. This position will make him a very imperfect nominee on Romney's ticket.
"He's a member of the 1-percent," said Rosenstein, who said she has discussed union issues with nine New Jersey governors, but Christie refuses to meet with her. "He doesn't have anything to do with working people. He's out of touch with people who are struggling."
Christie could have helped working people by approving a train tunnel under the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York City - a project he supported during his gubernatorial campaign. Instead, he blocked a project that would have helped millions of people travel to their jobs and would have created 6,000 construction jobs immediately and 40,000 more jobs after the tunnel was completed in 2018, according to the Federal Transit Administration. U.S. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said the tunnel would be the nation's largest public works project.
"He has a dismal record on jobs," said Rosenstein.
Christie said that he blocked the $12.4 billion project because its cost kept increasing, but the Government Accountability Office reported that the governor was wrong. Christie portrayed his decision as a win for ordinary people concerned about higher taxes, but Obama campaign officials could use the controversy to portray Christie as a conservative grandstander.
"This (decision) defined his reputation as a fiscal conservative, as a hero in the Republican Party." The New York Times reporter Kate Zernike said on the "Rachel Maddow Show" on April 10, 2012.
Part of Christie's appeal has been his perceived independence, partly because he opposed his political allies on issues like gun control, immigration, civil unions and climate change.
Christie also prosecuted Democrats and Republicans while he was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey from 2002 to 2008, winning convictions on all 130 cases against public officials he prosecuted, according to a 2008 editorial in The Star-Ledger, a Newark, N.J. newspaper.
However, Christie was portrayed as tool of corporate interests in an April 1, 2012, article in The Star-Ledger. The newspaper reported that Christie has supported bills that are almost identical in wording to bills written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group that, among other things, seeks to transfer government services to corporations, reduce benefits to public service unions, and reduce regulations that were devised to protect the environment.
Politically, Christie's direct, politically incorrect way of talking has been seen as a plus. His relatively high popularity ratings (54-percent approval in a March, 2012, poll by Farleigh Dickinson University) as a conservative in a state that has voted for Democrats in the last five presidential elections has added credence to this theory. If swing voters in a Democratic state like him, swing voters in swing states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin might also like him, according to Christie's fans.
However, Dworkin said Christie's anger and tough talk won't work with Midwesterners and Southerners as well as it does in New Jersey. Rosenstein added that she believes Christie's polarizing personality will be a liability in a national campaign.
"That angry, really nasty, rude stuff doesn't play well everywhere," she said.
Christie's personality is so strong that he is uninterested in being a vice president and Romney won't select him anyway although VP nominees are traditionally "attack dogs" against opponents, a Christie strong suit, said Dworkin.
"He has to be in charge," added Dworkin. "He could be an attack dog without being on the presidential ticket."
Christie defeated Corzine in 2009 despite weight issues that political opponents openly discussed, but his health problems, including asthma, could be a bigger problem nationally. In fact, political experts like Dworkin believe that Christie's 48.5 to 44.9 percent gubernatorial campaign win could not have occurred if Corzine wasn't very unpopular and a Romney-Christie ticket will lose New Jersey by a wide margin.
"Corzine lost; Christie didn't win," said Rosenstein.
Martin Zabell covered politics and news for several Chicago-area newspapers for about 13 years before returning to his native New York in 2011. He graduated Lafayette (Pa.) College with a degree in Government and Law. His career highlights in politics include crashing a Ronald Reagan presidential press conference by flashing a press pass he used to cover Lafayette football games and chasing Joe Biden down the stairs at a temple.
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