In a sign that he still aspires to unite the Republican Party in 2016, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie began his second term by saying his bipartisan approach is the antidote to the us-versus-them message he said dominates Washington.
Under investigation at home for accusations of political bullying, Mr. Christie said he and his administration have tried to work with all sides when it comes to the issues that matter to voters, and he jabbed at President Obama’s approach to governing.
“I do not believe that New Jerseyans want a bigger, more expensive government that penalizes success and then gives the pittance left to a few in the name of income equity,” Mr. Christie said. “What New Jerseyans want is an unfettered opportunity to succeed in the way they define success. They want an equal chance at the starting; not a government-guaranteed result.”
“For those who prefer economic growth and opportunity to government redistribution and higher taxes, I say this: come to New Jersey. You will be welcome here,” he said.
But the attempt to paint himself in a post-partisan light was muddied by the ongoing state and federal investigations into the George Washington Bridge scandal and the use of federal Hurricane Sandy relief funds for tourism ads starring the governor and his family during his successful re-election campaign last fall.
Mr. Christie also is facing new allegations that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno threatened to withhold federal Sandy funds from the mayor of Hoboken if the Democrat refused to back a development project.
Mr. Christie’s office has challenged that claim — though he did not mention either scandal in his address Tuesday.
Still, the controversies are taking a toll.
A new Quinnipiac University poll found Mr. Christie’s national standing has slipped, and showed former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton now easily tops him in a hypothetical 2016 presidential match-up.
“New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie’s 2016 presidential drive is stuck in traffic, sideswiped by ‘Bridgegate,’ the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “In the last few months, Quinnipiac University national and state polls showed him inching ahead of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Today, she zips past him.”
New Jersey Democrats, who control the state Legislature, signaled a new phase in their investigation on Tuesday, announcing that the Assembly and Senate were merging their investigations and had formed a 12-member joint committee to look into whether Mr. Christie or his aides abused their powers.
For his part, Mr. Christie used his inaugural address to highlight his signature on the state’s Dream Act, allowing illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition. And he tried to recapture the magic of his post-Hurricane Sandy recovery period, when his leadership won praise from slices of the electorate — Hispanics, African-Americans and women — that Republicans have struggled with in recent national elections.
“One of the lessons that I have learned most acutely over the last four years is that New Jersey can really be one state,” Mr. Christie said. “This election has taught us that the ways we divide each other — by race, by class, by ethnicity, by wealth, by political party — is neither permanent nor necessary. Our dreams are the same: a good job, a great education for our children, safe streets in our neighborhood and core values which give our lives real meaning. Those dreams are not unique to any one group in our state.”