As the buzz grows over the possibility of Chris Christie jumping into the Republican presidential race, some conservative skeptics say the New Jersey governor — like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney before him — has a record of comments, appointments and positions that many in the GOP rank and file will find difficult to swallow.
The blunt-spoken governor has earned kudos in GOP circles for balancing New Jersey’s state’s budget and for standing up to unions, but critics say he’s out-of-step with his party’s base on global warming, immigration and gun control. Some say he is the quintessential Northeast Republican — and they don’t mean it as a compliment.
“I am concerned about his reliability on the Second Amendment — and I’m not real sure about any Easterner getting in,” said Katherine I. Hicks, an Anchorage, Alaska, Tea Party Patriots organizer. “Easterners don’t seem to realize what freedom is. They may be OK in the fiscal area, but don’t trust them in the actual act of trying to make the U.S. a free country again.”
Others cite Mr. Christie’s Cabinet in Trenton — solidly liberal and full of holdovers from the administration of his Democratic predecessor, John Corzine — as an alarming indicator of how he might govern from the Oval Office.
New Jersey pollster Rick Shaftan says Republicans outside the state will be “outraged” once they learn more about Mr. Christie’s Cabinet appointments, including Attorney General Paula Dow. The veteran GOP adviser describes her as “Christie’s pro-abortion, pro-gun control attorney general.”
Mr. Christie, still insisting he won’t run, traveled 3,000 miles Tuesday to speak at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, where he took the opportunity to indirectly attack Mr. Perry, the front-runner in some polls, on immigration — another subject on which Mr. Christie is vulnerable.
“Christie is pro-amnesty for illegal aliens,” said Steve Salvi, founder of the Ohio Jobs & Justice political action committee and a tea party activist. “Do I need to say more?”
In a Fox News interview in June, Mr. Christie said he was not for amnesty, but said illegal immigration has to be addressed at the federal level. “The federal government has to get in. They have to secure our borders and they have to set up common sense rules to give people a pathway to citizenship,” he said.
Global-warming skeptics don’t trust Mr. Christie, either, especially since he said last month that “when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.”
The governor’s fans, however, contend Mr. Christie offers the GOP its best chance of defeating President Obama next year.
“Christie has a lot of positives. His biggest asset is that he’s a straight-shooter in a time when politicians are seen as evasive and dodgy, saying whatever they can to get reelected and pander to their base,” said Nathan Mintz, a California tea-party activist. “He has a solid record of reform in New Jersey — including implementing some tough spending cuts and reforming the tax system.”
Mr. Christie has continued to deny any intentions of running, but like Mr. Perry before he jumped in, the New Jersey governor has been traveling far afield from his home state to make speeches at venues typically visited by candidates seeking national office.
Many conservatives have long been suspicious of the attention the press has given Mr. Christie for nearly a year — especially as the GOP nomination race unfolds.
“It seems that elements of the media keep perpetuating the idea of an unsettled GOP field in an effort to divide the base and cast doubts on the current group,” said Gavin Rollins, a GOP lawmaker in northern Florida. “I like and respect Gov. Christie but based on his definitive denials and statements suggesting he isn’t ready to be president, I think it would be difficult for him to now enter the race.”
“Although he is liked and respected for his frank, no-nonsense style, whether he would be the able to unify the base is unclear,” said Mr. Rollins. “Voters often times want what they can’t have and in the absence on information about a candidate, project their best beliefs, hopes and ideals on the person yet to enter the race only to find on closer examination everyone’s human after all.”