New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will deliver his annual State of the State speech on Tuesday in what could be his last big address – and one of the most important of his career – before he makes his 2016 presidential plans public.
Unlike several other potential presidential candidates, the Republican governor is still in office – and his record and rhetoric can and will be even more scrutinized as a result. So when he addresses New Jersey residents on Tuesday, will he really be addressing them – or 2016 crystal-ball gazers?“The goal is to kick-start his presidential campaign and sound off on the themes he’s going to use,” said Patrick Murray, a Monmouth University pollster and political analyst. That likely means touting achievements during the first 18 months of his term, including cutting government spending and greenlighting pension reform.
“This is definitely going to be geared toward a national audience … issues that will resonate with the Republican base,” added Murray.
Democratic State Sen. Ray Lesniak expressed concern that issues important to New Jersey residents – like how to fix Transportation Trust Fund (which is $14 billion in debt and pays for roads and public transport), how to fulfill the underfunded pension system and how to create much-need jobs – will fall to the wayside during the governor’s speech on Tuesday.
“Based on all his actions to date, it’s hard to be optimistic” the speech will focus on New Jersey, said Lesniak. “Everything he has done over the past year or more has been to promote his presidential ambitions.”
Christie’s office did not respond to a request for comment on what issues the governor would address.
It’s been a rough year for Christie. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded by the three major rating agencies, with growing pension obligations on the horizon. Economic recovery has been slow, with the state’s unemployment rate at 6.4%, compared to the national average of 5.6%. And the state saw approximately 8,000 casino workers lose their jobs following the headline-grabbing shuttering of several casinos in Atlantic City.
In addition, there’s still fallout from the scandal known as “Bridgegate,” with an ongoing federal investigation into the 2013 lane closure scandal, carried out by some of the governor’s aides and allies seemingly for political retribution. The governor, who has denied any prior knowledge of the scheme, reportedly met last month with federal authorities looking into the plot.
And there’s also the more recent criticism over the governor’s all-expense-paid-trip by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for box seats and a private jet to watch the Texas team play – and whether or not state ethics rules were violated. Jones is a part-owner of a company that had won a contract with the Port Authority, an agency that is overseen by Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Christie’s office has claimed the governor’s friendship with Jones began after the Port Authority bid, but the governor nonetheless paid his own way to the Cowboys game in Green Bay over the weekend.
During last year’s State of the State, Christie took a more reserved, humble tone – attributed to emails made public the week before that showed members of Christie’s administration were involved in the lane closures. During that address he admitted “mistakes were clearly made,” but insisted that they did not define the state or himself. He also stressed bipartisanship, repeated his call for no tax increases, and called for a longer school day and year to keep New Jersey students competitive.
Christie has said he would likely make a decision about whether or not to run for president sometime early this year. But many are speculating the governor could move up his timetable, especially as moderate Republicans like himself, including former Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, inch closer to a bid themselves. The three could potentially end up vying for the same pool of mainstream cash and moderate GOP voters.
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But Christie has already secured some big-time support if he does decide to jump into the race. Last month, Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot told CNBC that he’s going to do “everything possible” to help Christie get the GOP nomination should the governor run for the nation’s highest office. And according to the New York Observer, Ray Washburne, the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman, will be stepping down this week and will join Christie’s likely presidential campaign.
Even if Christie hasn’t explicitly made his 2016 intentions known, he’s certainly walking the walk. The governor is hitting the road this month to attend a slew of inauguration ceremonies for fellow governors that he helped get elected as chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association. He was in the swing state of Florida last week and has plans to go to the bellwether state of Ohio, in addition to the crucial early voting states of South Carolina and Iowa. He’ll also go to Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland – traditional blue states (much like New Jersey) where Christie helped elect GOP governors in the midterms. The trips are being seen as an opportunity for Christie to take a victory lap and meet potential fundraisers if he decides to run nationally.
But in New Jersey, Christie’s poll number have taken a hit, in part because of the large out-of-state traveling his has done in the last year, visiting more than 36 states.
According to the latest RealClearPolitics average of polling data surrounding the still nascent 2016 presidential nomination, Bush holds a slight lead over potential GOP contenders with 17% support. Close behind are Christie with 11.2%, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (who announced Monday that he will not run for president in 2016) with 10%, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky with 8.6%. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker all follow, tied with 8% each.