New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is polling terribly in his home state. In the jam-packed 2016 Republican presidential field, he’s only pulling single digits. The scandal known as Bridgegate, which sprayed his entire administration with the stench of scandal, isn’t going away. And the loud buzz surrounding Christie running for president in the last election cycle? It’s nearly silent this time around.
But on Tuesday morning, Christie – who conservatives all but begged to run in 2012 – will try and change his fortunes and break away from underdog status when he announces his presidential bid at his former high school in Livingston.
What does a path to victory actually look like for Christie? Several involved in the campaign, including Ray Washburne, Christie’s finance chief, say it largely rests on three main tenants – holding town hall meetings (a format he does quite well in), eventually showing off his debate chops on the national stage, and putting forth concrete policy proposals.
“He’s laid pretty low in the last few months to get through the budget season. Now that he’s finished with that now, he can really get out on the road and really let people hear him and see him,” said Washburne.Bonnie Kilberg, a prominent Republican donor and fundraiser who backs Christie, insisted “Chris has just a good of a shot as anybody else. There is no frontrunner. He has two overwhelming strengths, his ability to stake out strong policy positions and articulate them and his ability as a retail politician.”
If his recently revealed presidential campaign site with the slogan “telling it like it is” and a preview of his announcement video is any indication, Christie will bank on pitching his personal – and bold—style on Tuesday. But he may also try and strike a softer tone. In the preview video, the governor attempts to explain his in-your-face demeanor – a trait of his that has been criticized in the past.
He points to his Sicilian mother’s influence on his life. “I know if my mom were still alive, she would tell me, ‘I taught you that in a trusting relationship, you don’t hold anything back. And if you’re going to run for president of the United States and you’re going to ask these people for their vote, that is the single most trusting they can do as a citizen, is to give you their support. So you better tell them exactly what you’re thinking and exactly what you’re feeling,” Christie is seen telling a crowd at one of his famous town-hall meetings.
In recent months, Christie has laid out detailed policy proposals on education, entitlement reform, the economy and foreign policy – something he has pointed to as separating himself from the rest of the GOP pack. The governor has said he also intends to deliver remarks on immigration.
Although Gov. Christie will make his big announcement in his home state, he won’t be there for long. After his remarks in Livingston, the governor will head to Sandown, New Hampshire to hold a town hall meeting in the early evening. He’ll stick around in the first-in-the-nation primary state through July 4, holding an additional 10 events, including two additional town halls, retail meet and greets and an appearance in a 4th of July parade. New Hampshire is quickly emerging as a do-or-die state for Christie, a northeastern moderate who experts say would have trouble in other critical early voting states like Iowa and South Carolina.
Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said Christie could face a slew of challenges—including his record in New Jersey (where economic growth has been lackluster) and whether primary voters are willing to vote for someone who “while conservative is not the most conservative candidate.”
And then there’s the 2013 Bridgegate scandal, in which three former allies of the governor have been charged in a plot to close lanes and snarl traffic on the George Washington Bridge, the nation’s busiest. Christie has denied any prior knowledge of the plot, although the scheme resulted in the governor’s popularity taking a hit. Plus, the federal trials for those three former allies are expected to begin this fall. “While voters in New Hampshire and Iowa won’t care about some bridge, it could be a problem because it’s a federal trial and more importantly makes Christie seem like a typical politician when his entire career has been based on being an atypical politician” said Dworkin.
Despite the challenges, Christie supporters say he still has plenty of time on his side.
“My expectation is that there will be many, many more people for me to go to for donors,” said Kilberg. “Lots of people were waiting to see if he’s running. This expands the potential donor pool substantially.”
And Washburne said backers can expect that fundraising pleas will be coming their way shortly. “Now we can really get started,” he said.
Christie will make his plans official at Livingston High School in the township that he has long called home – and where he was school president and catcher of the baseball team. Although the school’s gym is expected to be filled with Christie supporters, outside the venue may be a different story.
Anthony Rosamilia, president of the Essex County Education Association, said the group will provide bus service for demonstrators to the school from Livingston Mall—and that so far, 1,000 people have signed up.
Democrats in New Jersey, meanwhile, are calling on Christie to step down as governor if he does run for president.
“It’s tough to govern in a state when you’re not there,” said John Curie, chairman of New Jersey Democratic State Committee on a conference call with reporters on Monday. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto agreed. “He doesn’t have to legally, but I think it’s something that should be considered,” adding it would “probably be in the best interest of the residents.”