- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie is preparing to depart the stage after two terms in New Jersey, but his long shadow will shroud the state for years — including denting the chances of his lieutenant governor to succeed him.

With approval numbers in the teens, the Bridgegate scandal looming in his past along with a failed presidential run, and his odd relationship with President Trump still going, the Mr. Christie who leaves office early next year is very different than the rising star of 2009, who seemed to point to a GOP recovery.

Former Gov. Tom Kean, who served as an early Christie mentor, said the governor’s legacy is a tale of two terms, the first of which showcased Mr. Christie’s political gifts and problem-solving skills, while the second showed “carelessness” and a “devil-may-care attitude” that plagued him.

Mr. Christie’s emergence eight years ago spawned “tremendous excitement,” Mr. Kean said, as members of the GOP relished not only recapturing control of one of the most powerful governorships in the country, but also the prospect of a tough-talking Republican who could win in blue states.

“He is the most able political figure I have seen since Bill Clinton,” Mr. Kean said.

After taking on Democrats over taxes, public sector employees over health care benefits and pensions, and teachers over their tenure system, Mr. Christie took a pass on a run against President Obama in 2012.

His high point came in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, when voters applauded his cooperation with Mr. Obama. His approval rating climbed north of 70 percent.

Conservatives bristled over the embrace he shared with the then-president, were upset at Mr. Christie’s attacks on Republicans who questioned the infusion of federal cash that followed the storm, and questioned the governor’s decision to expand Medicaid rolls in his state by accepting additional federal dollars from Obamacare.

Mr. Christie still cruised to re-election in 2013, making inroads with parts of the electorate — women, Hispanic and black voters — that had soured on the GOP in recent presidential races.

But the “Bridgegate” scandal, which he initially ridiculed as fake news, eventually exposed criminal behavior by some of his inner circle, who approved clogging traffic on the George Washington Bridge in an apparent act of political retribution against a New Jersey mayor.

And Mr. Christie also began to boost his national profile ahead of a 2016 presidential bid, taking on a term as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, helping the GOP set fundraising records and go from 29 to 31 governors.

“New Jerseyans felt that he was using his current job purely as a steppingstone for his national ambitions and he just didn’t give a damn about the state anymore,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “In the end, it was less about what he did as governor than what he didn’t do — such as show interest in his current job.

Mr. Kean said Mr. Christie’s stances even seemed to change, as he catered to a different audience than New Jersey voters. In one instance he vetoed a bill that would have banned the use of gestation crates for hogs in New Jersey — a move that was broadly viewed as an overture to voters in Iowa.

“It was that kind of thing that got people annoyed,” Mr. Kean said.

Mr. Christie didn’t make it deep into the GOP presidential primary, placing sixth in New Hampshire and then dropping out. He quickly endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump, becoming one of the first high-profile mainstream Republicans to back the maverick candidate.

Mr. Christie was named to lead the Trump transition team after the election, but did not end up in the White House or Cabinet — and continued his slide at home.

Things cratered last summer over “beachgate,” when photos emerged of the governor relaxing in the sun with his family on a beach that had been closed to the public due to a state government shutdown.

A recent Suffolk University poll showed that 16 percent of voters give his job performance a thumbs up and suggested that he is dragging down Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno chances to succeed him.

“It’s very hard to distance yourself from someone who has been attached at the hip for so long,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “If you had a governor that had a credible job performance even though he was personally unpopular, you might survive the fallout. But in Christie’s case, it’s a double whammy.”

When asked what word or phrase came to mind first when voters were asked about Mrs. Guadagno, the top response was “Chris Christie.”

Brian Murray, a Christie representative, dismissed the idea that Mr. Christie could blamed for a Guadagno loss in November, suggesting it would have more to do with a finicky electorate.

“No two term NJ Governor (of either party) has ‘ushered in’ a successor since Governor Robert Meyner (Democrat) in 1962!” Mr. Murray said in an email. “So in NJ history, if a Democrat is elected in November, that would be the norm. It’s been 55 years since either party has won three consecutive terms in the Governor’s office.”

Mr. Murray said Mr. Christie has a long his of accomplishment that includes presiding over a dip in the unemployment rate in New Jersey, doubling the number of charter school seats, doing away with the estate tax and cutting business taxes.

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