As the Republican field has slowly been assembled, the tensions are beginning to increase. In roughly 12 months, the party will be on the verge of naming its nominee to challenge President Barack Obama. Despite having a field of former governors, current members of Congress, and former elected officials as well as a perfect non-politician; the base and Republican voters as a whole are still not quite satisfied. Amongst some of those unsatisfied, they are looking for someone like Governor Chris Christie to enter the race.
Christie burst on the scene in 2009 as part of political tide turner for the Republican Party and the party has used him as a campaigner and talking head around the country. From those national opportunities and his own confidence, Christie has often boasted about his accomplishments in New Jersey and his approach to running the state. It is an approach that drew the eye of Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad. Branstad had Christie campaign for him as he was elected governor of Iowa again in 2010 after a small break away from politics. Their connection was so strong that Branstad had Christie return to Iowa on Monday to explain his governing approach to Iowans. In particular, Christie keyed in on his approach and agenda for education in the Garden State and how it can be applied elsewhere.
Christie’s visit comes at a time when two Midwest candidates, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN6), are in the middle of a bit of political posturing in anticipation for the first caucus and opening contest in the race to the gain the Republican nomination. As Christie entered the state, he targeted a sense of unity and applied that to his view of the future of New Jersey’s and the country’s education.
As he would state during his speech Monday,
“We spend a lot of time focused on the issues that divide us about the educational future of our country. We need to spend more time on the things that unite us.”
During his time in office, Christie has been a bit contradictory when it comes to education. One minute in an address to the state he is putting education as a top priority and concern and the next he is putting it near the top of his list for cuts when budget time comes around. His 2010 cuts drew much attention. The $820 million in cuts forced a state Supreme Court case that ultimately led to the state having to restore funding for its Abbott or poorest districts. Possibly due to the headlines he has gotten over his decisions on education, he was sure to link cuts and adjustments to his attempt at fixing New Jersey’s budget deficit that is above $11 billion.
He would further elaborate with,
“I don’t oppose funding public schools; I dealt with a difficult economic fiscal circumstance and got great opposition in certain quarters because we demonize each other. Everyone in New Jersey and I suspect everyone in Iowa wants to invest in our children’s’ future.”
One of Christie chief criticism with the state’s education system has been its teacher tenure system. A system that Christie believes rewards failure and complacency and does not do enough to reward overachieving members of the education system.
Speaking on the subject, Christie explained,
“Tenure should be earned, year after year after year, based on performance. Once we get to where tenure is earned, why shouldn’t we pay those who are most excellent more than those who are not?”
The speech may have focused on education; it is hard for some; like those Iowa donors who came to New Jersey earlier this year, to simply dismiss Christie’s comments on and intentions for 2012 and running for president. Nonetheless, Iowa’s governor had nothing but praise for his fellow governor. Branstad spoke of Christie in a high light when stating,
“Gov. Christie has worked with both parties to put New Jersey back on track as one of the most vocal governors about education reform.”
Some Democrats in New Jersey were critical of another Christie trip outside the state for what could be seen as a way to further his national profile and spotlight while ignoring his chief duty of governing New Jersey. One such Democrat was New Jersey Democratic State Chairman and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19). Wisniewski did not see any benefit for New Jersey in Christie’s visit and would grill Christie by commenting that,
“Chris Christie has become New Jersey’s Sarah Palin, continuously traveling around the country to tell people that he’s not interested in running for President. Instead of staying to help New Jersey seniors and families struggling under budget cuts and rising unemployment, Christie decided to once again raise his own national profile by campaigning out of state in Iowa.”
Wisniewski’s comments might be politically slanted; they certainly echo a calling that Christie has gathered amongst Republicans. It at times has taken his attention away from New Jersey and has gotten him this mix of adulation and disdain. A Public Policy Polling poll last week did not put Christie in as high a light as Branstad and others have of him. The poll showed his approval rate sliding and despite these visits possibly opening the eyes of Republican donors; they also do not go ignored by New Jerseyans, who want him to solve a variety of issues in the state and put being governor before being national star of the Republican Party.
Polls like the PPP poll should be on Christie’s mind if he begins to listen to those calling his name in states like Iowa. To his credit, Christie was able to focus more on the topic of education during his visit, but the winds of a presidential run continue to circulate around him. Those winds have crossed the mind and eyes of some like Candace Straight, a top New Jersey Republican fundraiser, who is one of those Republicans that is not quite satisfied with the Republican field for president as it is. According to Straight,
“As I talk to some people around the country, they’re not sure we have a candidate who can win. I don’t think that anybody in the Republican field has shown that this is the person who is going to beat Obama. The people like Ken Langone will still be trying to get people into the primary.”
Langone, the cofounder of Home Depot, and several hedge fund managers gathered in Manhattan last week to urge Christie to join the Republican field.
Straight’s opinion is why largely despite his claims of no interest in running that people still follow Christie in hopes of a change of heart. That hope and desire for some Republicans for Christie perks up when he does speeches and plans visits in states like Iowa. In today’s 24/7 media cycle, it is hard for any movement and action to not be pulled apart and analyzed. That is especially the case with presidential politics and crucial primary and election states.
A former advisor of both Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and President George W. Bush, Brian Jones, might have summed up the Christie fascination at its core. As Jones laid out,
“Every day he has an opportunity to show his leadership. The rest of the field doesn’t have that structural advantage. If you go around the country, you’d be hard-pressed to find another governor who is exhibiting the kind of leadership Christie is. Among Republicans, he is universally liked and admired.”
That feeling and interest is why governors like Branstad call upon him and why he remains a hot commodity amongst his party. Polls and commentary come and go; yet, Christie continues to set his own tone. That approach is something he is not afraid to share with anyone who will listen beyond the state’s borders.