New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has undergone lap-band surgery, vetoed gun control bills and banned anti-gay conversion therapies for minors — all while touting his ability to push conservative principles in a blue state.
With three months to go before he faces voters in his quest for another term as governor, the rotund Republican looks poised to run away with a double-digit victory that could build momentum for a 2016 presidential bid.
"It is vital for Gov. Christie to run up a big margin in order to make his story work," said Charlie Gerow, an American Conservative Union member and CEO of Pennsylvania-based Quantum Communications. "Without a big margin, the story is far less powerful. But if he is successful, the story for Chris Christie is, 'I am a Republican that not only can win in a very blue state, but I am able to win convincingly and handily in a very blue state.'"
New Jersey last went for a Republican presidential candidate in 1988. Since then, no Republican has won 50 percent of the vote in a statewide election, not even Mr. Christie, who was elected governor in 2009 with 49 percent of the vote.
"If he has big numbers, Republican leaders from around the country will have to look and say, 'What he does works electorally,'" Mr. Gerow said.
Others say Mr. Christie doesn't even have to win big; simply winning is good enough.
"Frankly, a Republican governor getting re-elected in a blue state makes the point relevant to winning a national race," said Henry Barbour, a member of the Republican National Committee and one of the authors of the party's postelection Growth and Opportunity Project. "It does not take a lot of analysis to figure out a Republican winning there twice is connecting with voters we don't normally convert in general elections."
Mr. Christie is running well ahead of state Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat, in the polls in the run-up to their Nov. 5 contest.
He also shrewdly separated the special election he had to call to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg. He scheduled it for October, while his own re-election bid follows the regular November cycle.
Mr. Christie could have named a replacement to serve out the remainder of Mr. Lautenberg's term, but he opted instead for a special election.
The governor's rivals say the decision will cost taxpayers $24 million and that Mr. Christie did not want to be on the same ticket as Newark Mayor Corey Booker, the popular Democratic Senate candidate who could have attracted more Democrats to the polls and cut into Mr. Christie's margin of victory.
Mr. Gerow, though, said there was nothing wrong with Mr. Christie's decision-making.
"It stands to reason that the governor would — as would any governor — make a political calculation about when to schedule a special election," Mr. Gerow said.
Mr. Christie rode into office in 2009 along with Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, a pair of triumphs that helped rally the Republican faithful in the wake of Sen. Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential election.
The gubernatorial victories helped set the table for the 2010 elections, when the tea party movement emerged as a political force and Republicans won control of the U.S. House.
Mr. Christie, meanwhile, was winning headlines in New Jersey, where he said he faced an $11 billion budget deficit. He refused to raise taxes and plugged the fiscal hole through a series of spending cuts, reducing aid to schools and local governments, cutting the state's property tax rebate program and skipping a pension payment.
Mr. Christie also took the fight to some public-sector unions, pushing to cut pension and health care benefits for teachers — moves that, combined with his blunt, in-your-face style, made him a hit online and within the Republican ranks.
Indeed, Mr. Christie was aggressively courted to run for president in 2012 by the likes of former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and deep-pocketed Republicans, including Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot.
Mr. Christie instead endorsed Mitt Romney and became one of the former Massachusetts governor's most powerful allies. That changed toward the end of the campaign when he showered Mr. Obama with praise after Superstorm Sandy and chose not to join Mr. Romney at a campaign event in neighboring Pennsylvania.
The moves angered conservatives, and Mr. Christie came under additional fire after he complained that House Republican leaders were dragging their feet on passing a $50 billion emergency aid package to cover storm damage.
He was left off the list of guest speakers at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington and became embroiled in a continuing war of words with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another likely Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
Since the election, Mr. Christie also has undergone surgery to make his stomach smaller and pushed to limit the future sale of the Barret 50 caliber long-range rifle — only to veto the legislature's final bill, saying that the proposal went beyond his recommendation and would have banned firearms "currently and lawfully used by competitive marksmen for long-range precision target shooting."
He also signed a bill barring licensed therapists from trying to turn gay teenagers straight — a move that put him at odds with some conservatives.
The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Mr. Christie winning strong support among male and female voters and garnering support of New Jersey's independents.
Mr. Christie touted the polls when he addressed the Republican National Committee in Boston recently, telling the audience during a closed-door luncheon that if the party is serious about getting back to its winning ways and broadening its appeal then it should look at what he has done in the Garden State.
"I am in this business to win. I don't know why you are in it. I am in this to win," Mr. Christie said.
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