- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2011

Every time Gov. Chris Christie plays another round of smash-mouth politics with New Jersey’s public-sector unions, conservative voters across the country lead the cheers.

“When he speaks to the unions and the other parasitic special-interest groups ripping off the taxpayers, you want to applaud,” said Mark Kevin Lloyd, chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation. “Think about the first time you heard [Clint] Eastwood say, ‘So, you feel lucky, punk? Go ahead — make my day.’ Remember how everyone cheered?”

A poll finds that Republicans and independents have warmed quickly to the governor’s in-your-face style with teachers unions, state government workers, police and firefighters — so much so that they propelled him to the front among possible GOP presidential nomination contenders in 2012 despite Mr. Christie’s frequent assertions that he won’t run.

Yet many of those admirers say they know little else about the governor.

Christie’s popularity among conservatives and others is a tribute to his image as a straight-talking guy taking on the No. 1 problem the nation and various states face,” said David A. Keene, a former chairman of the American Conservative Union.

“Does this make him a conservative? Not necessarily, but it makes him a realist who stands out as very different from most elected officials and, because of his willingness to stand up to entrenched interests in a quasi-liberal state, it makes him a man of courage and an enemy of the left on the primary issue of this decade.”

While giving a highly anticipated policy speech in Washington last week, Mr. Christie, 48, won approving nods from Republicans, independents, tea party activists and even some Democrats by threatening to campaign for primary opponents of Republicans in Congress who don’t go to the mat in the battle to slash Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending.

That threat included the tea-party-backed freshmen for whom he campaigned last year.

Barely more than a year into his governorship, Mr. Christie attracted enough national attention to place first among GOP contenders in a Zogby presidential preference poll last month, backed by 27 percent of likely voters. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a national figure for decades, placed second with 17 percent, followed by Sarah Palin at 18 percent and Mike Huckabee at 17 percent. The rest of the potential GOP candidates placed in single digits in the poll of 2,073 likely voters.

Mr. Christie was also the only Republican in the poll to beat President Obama in a head-to-head matchup, by a 43 percent to 41 percent margin.

That doesn’t mean a Christie campaign wouldn’t face questions within the party.

Mr. Christie is not the hard-liner on abortion that some pro-lifers prefer, though he says he wants to outlaw partial-birth abortion and require parental notification for minors and a 24-hour waiting period for women considering the procedure.

“He’s very strong on fiscal issues,” said Jeff Frederick, a former Virginia GOP chairman. “In fact, I can’t think of someone with better fiscal conservative bona fides on the national scene right now.”

However, Mr. Frederick said that Mr. Christie “is very weak on the social issues and doesn’t seem too interested in at least getting along with the social conservatives, or at least not at this point.”

Mr. Lloyd, the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation chairman, said Mr. Christie’s “appeal doesn’t come from strict adherence to the dogma of the social right but rather from understanding the math — bringing sensible kitchen-table fiscal policy to government.”

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