Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey returned to his high school gymnasium Tuesday to launch a “Tell It Like It Is” campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, joining a robust class of governors seeking The White House.
A half-dozen current or former Republican governors have entered the race, and at least two more — Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio — are preparing to campaign as well.
The broad slate of governors, Republican observers say, underscores a strong sense in some GOP circles that President Obama’s failed leadership on the domestic and foreign policy fronts is directly tied to his lack of previous executive experience — and that the party should not make the same mistake.
Looking to tap into that lingering anxiety, Mr. Christie on Tuesday touted the gubernatorial record he put together working with a Democrat-controlled New Jersey Legislature as evidence that he has the leadership skills needed to end the partisan gridlock in Washington and to tackle the nation’s biggest problems.
“Unlike some people who offer themselves for the presidency in 2016, you’re not going to have to wonder whether I can do it or not,” Mr. Christie said.
He highlighted how he balanced state budgets, blocked tax increases and butted heads with the public employee unions over retirement and health care benefits.
Mr. Christie also said he has led his state’s economic comeback as well as recovery efforts in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“We’ve led, and we’ve worked together to do it,” Mr. Christie said.
“As governor, I’ve proven that you can stand up and fight the most powerful special interest this state has to have and stand up and stop them, but, at the same time, reach across the aisle to our friends in the Democratic Party and say, ‘If you have a good idea, I’m willing to work with you, because that’s what our country needs,’” Mr. Christie said.
The other governors in the field have delivered similar messages, which distance them not only from Mr. Obama but also from some of their Republican rivals.
Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, said he had been “tested” and said he led the “most successful state in America” through the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, several major hurricanes and immigration issues on the nation’s border.
“We have seen what happens when we elect a president based on media acclaim rather than a record of accomplishment,” Mr. Perry said. “This will be a ‘show me, don’t tell me’ election, where voters look past the rhetoric to the real record.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, meanwhile, said that “there’s no passing off responsibility when you’re a governor” and “no blending into the legislative crowd or filing an amendment and calling that success.”
“As our whole nation has learned since 2008, executive experience is another term for preparation, and there is no substitute for that,” Mr. Bush said.
The rest of the declared governors running — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Gov. George E. Pataki — have also touted their administrative experience as an asset.
Mr. Walker, meanwhile, is expected to enter the race on July 13, and Mr. Kasich has penciled in July 21.
Gerhard Peters of The American Presidency Project said the Republican governors are trying to tap into the palpable conservative outrage with the Obama administration.
“One of the themes on the Republican side is ‘We have had now almost seven years of a president that had no executive experience whatsoever, only served in the Senate, and look what we have,’” Mr. Peters said. “‘He had to learn on the job.’”
Mr. Peters said the governors also could benefit from the same sort of anti-Washington sentiment that helped propel Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — both governors — to victories in the 1980 and 1992 elections, respectively.
Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, also pointed out that most of the governors don’t have a laundry list of congressional votes that can be used as weapons against them in the nomination fight.
“In some cases, governors have never been legislators, so they have no voting record whatsoever — just their record from being in executive office,” Mr. Kondik said. “Or they were legislators, but so far back that they did not cast votes on currently important issues.”
After serving less than four years in the Senate, Mr. Obama made history in the 2008 presidential election by becoming the first member of Congress to make the jump to the White House since John F. Kennedy pulled off the feat in 1960.
Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas are trying to make a similar jump.
They’ve argued, among other things, that governors lack foreign policy know-how, and some of them have shown a tendency over the course of their careers to be too moderate for the party’s conservative base.
Once considered a possible front-runner, Mr. Christie’s star has faded following the 2013 George Washington Bridge scandal in which he has denied involvement but led indictments against three people for allegedly orchestrating traffic jams as payback against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse Mr. Christie. Mr. Christie also has watched over numerous credit rating downgrades.
His political fortunes brightened in early June, however, when the New Jersey Supreme Court sided with him in his fight to curb the costs of public employee benefits.
Still, polls show he is running near the back of the pack in national polls.