Gov. Chris Christie is set to enter the crowded GOP presidential race Tuesday with an announcement at his former high school. Polls show Christie is no longer a first-tier candidate, but longtime observers say his rhetorical skill on the stump should not be underestimated.
In an interview on his monthly radio show, Christie claimed he had not made a final decision about running, but did not deny that he would be making an announcement at Livingston High School on Tuesday. Christie was elected class president at Livingston three years in a row.
Two more clear indications of Christie’s intentions appeared over the weekend. On Saturday Christie launched a campaign website which includes a page seeking donations for a presidential run. Then on Sunday, Christie posted his first campaign style video on You Tube. The clip titled “Telling It Like It Is” features Christie in his favorite setting, a town hall, telling the story of his mother’s death from cancer in 2004. The point of the clip is that a good relationship, including one between voter and candidate, is based on straight talk.
Christie was seen as a possible leading contender in 2012 and was courted at the time by big donors. For a brief time it seemed hardly a day went by without him being asked if he would reconsider his decision not to run. His standing was injured, primarily, by two things. First, his decision to physically embrace President Obama in the wake of hurricane Sandy which had done major damage to the New Jersey coast in late October 2012. Christie’s embrace of Obama just prior to the election was seen as a betrayal of candidate Romney at a crucial moment in the campaign.
The other problem for Christie was Bridgegate, a genuine political scandal which involved some of Christie’s top political operatives. Christie said early on that he had no knowledge of the plot to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge to New York. Two separate probes of the incident have backed him up on that. Christie himself has said that he believes the story will eventually be a “footnote” to his career, one that demonstrates to voters he has told them the truth.
Polls show that Christie has broader name recognition than most candidates already in the race but he also has lower favorability numbers thanks to the Sandy backlash and Bridgegate. But longtime Christie-watchers warn that it’s too soon to count him out. Matt Katz, who covers Christie for WNYC, tells the Washington Post, “He believes he can win over voters one by one with townhall meetings, and watching the way he woos people in those settings he may be right.”
The power to persuade and cajole in close settings is one Christie has spent years honing. Paul Munshine, who writes about Christie for the New Jersey Star Ledger, described a recent press conference in which Christie, “got one laugh after another from the crowd of cynical and seasoned journalists.” As for Christie’s chances in 2016, Munshine isn’t bullish but says, “he could certainly make a run of it.” Starting tomorrow it seems that’s exactly what Christie intends to do.