The GOP is looking for a one good man.
And, at the moment, all eyes are on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), as his profile continues showing signs of an increasing national presence.
Talk of Christie has gone off and on for months since the 2010 elections, with some Republican party-goers pressed to get the first-term Garden State Governor into the Presidential election fray. Flattered, but dismissive, Christie has been frank and brutally honest about his intentions not to run for President. Yet, it’s his signature candid style that is drawing more interest from prognosticators while striking the political imagination of the most casual political observers.
Much of the Christie mystique comes from the Governor’s anti-politician vibe in which he appears able to answer the most direct inquiries with a style that is unusually honest and brusque for an elected official. But, speculation is also driven by a growing field of Republican presidential candidates, from some prominent A-listers who are already piecing together exploratory committees, to second-tier wannabes who simply have enough gravitas within the GOP to warrant a look. Hence, Christie’s rising star status could be more of a reflection of Republican anxiety over upcoming primary choices, a feeling that the options are not as fresh and cutting-edge as the party desires.
Republican insiders have been open about their need for a candidate with the “it” factor, something that can energize the electorate in a way not seen since President Obama electrified the body politic in 2008. With the GOP still lacking in racial diversity, Republicans are assuming that a political formula that combines executive expertise with an uncompromising governing approach is the winning equation.
But, it’s his no-prisoners-approach when engaging public sector labor unions that has Republican insiders excited. Unions represent the most organized and reliable contingent of electoral troopers within the Democratic base. With Governors like Christie and Scott Walker in Wisconsin taking them head on through a number of cost-cutting and what detractors call “union busting” measures, Republicans are able to effectively take out a major piece of the Democratic machine.
Heavily tied into Christie’s level of support and his ability to get re-elected is the sort of reception he is getting from the African American electorate in New Jersey. The Black population is nearly 20% in the state, including a highly active political class that is deeply tied into the unions. In addition, much of the Black middle class in Jersey is built on the public sector. Christie’s political and legislative offenses against the public sector may be construed by many African Americans in the state as an attack on them.
The question is are there any viable Democratic candidates that can take on Christie in his re-election cycle? And, what are the chances that Newark Mayor Corey Booker (D) is considering a run statewide? Would the Democratic machine prop up Booker? Would the African American political establishment, long at odds with the new school Black mayor, rally behind him?
Recent polls show that Christie, despite slips on federal education funds and snowstorm blues, is doing fairly well. Quinnipiac University’s polling, before the Jersey Governor found himself on a Conservative Political Action Committee straw poll, had him at a 52% approval rating, an increase of six percentage points from the last polling in December 2010. But, the poll also showed that Christie is highly partisan, or perceived as such, with 80% of Republicans loving him and nearly three quarters of Democrats hating him. The key for Christie, however, is in the Independents who approve of him by a 55% margin, that’s higher than his overall approval rating.
“New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie is a real New Jersey guy and he stirs a lot of real New Jersey emotions,” observes Maurice Carroll, Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. ” A lot of people like him and his policies and others who don’t like his policies like him anyway. And then there are people who don’t like him or his policies. Go figure. Or if you’re a New Jersey guy, or a Jersey girl, and don’t like to be told what to do – don’t figure.”
Another Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll showed Christie with an approval rating of 49%, up five percentage points from the previous poll in September. Still, the partisan divide remains in that poll, too, and there is some trepidation from Jersey voters concerning his effectiveness on property taxes, a topic that elicits religious-like reactions from residents.
“New Jersey’s highest in the nation property tax burden continues to shadow the governor. He’s built a reputation for getting things done, so he may suffer the most if relief doesn’t come soon,” says Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.