The Chris Christie reinvention tour landed in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday at the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Dinner.
There was no talk of questionable lane closures on the George Washington Bridge or the distribution of Sandy funds. Instead, the Republican New Jersey governor stuck to a familiar script during his keynote speech, touting his bipartisan chops to a room full of business leaders.
“When you accept a position of leadership, it doesn’t come with a guarantee of sunshine and rainbows,” said Christie, who has been dogged for months by investigations involving federal prosecutors, a state legislative panel and now the Manhattan district attorney.
Christie made a subtle nod to the media circus surrounding his every move, joking that “These remarks are being broadcast live by C-Span tonight. What that will tell you is this must be the quietest political night in America in months.”
The Republican touted “bipartisan victories” like economic incentive bills to entice businesses to the Garden State and decreasing business taxes. As a conservative governor in a Blue state, he stressed that none of his initiatives would be possible without the support of the Democratic-controlled legislature and the “humor” of residents.
Christie compared the people of New Jersey to 13-year-old middle school students in a science class: “They take that experiment into the basement, they start mixing things together and say ‘let’s see how this will work’ … the prediction was that it would be nothing but combustibility.” But it hasn’t led to the state government being “blown-up,” he added.
Working with Democratic leaders has “lead to economic growth” and “an atmosphere that really has convinced people that there are times when the government can actually work for them,” said Christie.
He urged New Jersey lawmakers to turn their attention to reforming pensions and public sector health benefits, setting an example for the federal government on how to make those tough choices.
“The easy route for me would be to cruise through a second term, not confront these problems and leave the bag for the next person. I’m not going to do that – at least not willingly,” he said.
But despite trying to pick up where he left off before the “Bridgegate” scandal, recent polling suggests Christie’s reputation as a potential 2016 contender has taken a serious hit with voters.
According to a RealClearPolitics poll surrounding the Iowa Republican presidential caucus, Christie came in fifth behind Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz – a far cry from his former front-runner status. However, he performed better with potential voters in polling over the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, where results show Paul in first with 15.3% of the vote and Christie in second with 12.7%.
A Rutgers-Eagleton survey suggested Christie has a ways to go before winning back New Jersey residents. According to the poll, about 41% of voters in the state disapprove of his job performance and a majority – 63% – said the governor’s internal report on Bridgegate wasn’t objective.