By Bob Jordan, Asbury Park Press, N.J.
Aug. 08–Gov. Chris Christie finally brought his “New Jersey” voice to the campaign for the Republican Party nomination for president.
In the Fox News debate for the top-10 GOP candidates, the governor was loud, brash and in rivals’ faces — the Christie that largely has been absent since his campaign launched June 30.
Whether the shift in persona wins over a national audience and turns around his fortunes — Christie was ninth among 17 GOP candidates going into Fox’s two GOP debates — isn’t yet clear, but the early read is that Christie breathed new life into his long-shot effort.
Donald Trump has been the attention-getting darling of Republicans looking for a brash nominee, but Christie showed a national TV audience that political brawling is his calling card, too.
In a series of exchanges, he portrayed himself as another strong, no-nonsense, plain-speaking chief executive — an alternative to the sharper-elbowed (and some say unelectable) Trump.
The governor, who had just six minutes of speaking time, was able to squeeze in blasts at rivals for their positions on domestic surveillance and entitlements, topics important to conservatives in key primary states such as New Hampshire and Iowa.
The exchanges left a mark.
Seizing the moment
Data from Twitter and Facebook showed Christie’s yelling match with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was online’s most talked-about moment in the Thursday night debate at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
For longtime watchers of the second-term governor, it was vintage Christie, a throwback to the frequent YouTube moments that marked his rise in the tough world ofNew Jersey politics.
” Gov. Christie should be pretty happy with his performance. He got into scrapes with Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee and won them both,” said Matthew Hale, a Seton Hall University political science professor.
Christie’s campaign hasn’t caught fire in polling since he officially entered the race. Nonetheless, he remains confident he has a path forward.
“See you in California,” Christie said at the end of an interview with Sean Hannity Thursday night, a reference to the debate slated for Sept. 16 at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
Tough on security
Christie accused Paul of blocking attempts to track down terrorists. Paul has pressed to end the government’s collection of phone and email records of U.S. citizens.
“We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer,” Christie told Paul.
Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said the exchange “gave Christie a chance to shine.”
“I think the moderators handed him a gift setting off that exchange with Rand Paul. National security is the No. 1 issue that our polls are showing that Republican voters are concerned about when deciding who their nominee is going to be,” Murray said.
Christie has placed an eggs-in-one-basket bet on doing well in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, making 17 campaign trips to the Granite State, the most of any candidate.
Murray said polling in New Hampshire shows “people there don’t like Chris Christie…but they’re looking for a solid national security candidate and that exchange handed Chris Christie a nice little package that he can bring up to New Hampshire to campaign with.”
New Hampshire Republican activist Claira Pirozzi Monier, who hasn’t committed support to a candidate, in a telephone interview said she watched the debate on television and liked what she heard from Christie.
“I thought Christie did fantastic. He would be my first choice in winning the debate because of how he took on Rand Paul, and he’s right on what surveillance our country needs to have,” she said.
Call it a comeback?
Christie also punched it out with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Christie has proposed Social Security benefit cuts. He was asked by moderator Chris Wallace if Huckabee was lying when he said the program could be fixed without cuts.
“He is not lying, he is just wrong,” Christie said. “I am the only person on this stage who has put out a detailed entitlement reform plan.”
Huckabee underscored his contrast with Christie, saying changes should be made in the budget, instead of through cuts to benefits to seniors earning more than$200,000, as Christie has called for.
Christie had been considered an early frontrunner for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination until the George Washington Bridge scandal broke in January 2014. His stature as a candidate slipped for other reasons as well, including his warm embrace of President Barack Obama after superstorm Sandy.
Many Republicans think he’s too moderate. Moreover, his plunging approval ratings in blue state New Jersey aren’t in sync with his contention that he can score votes in the general election with independents and disgruntled Democrats.
Can Christie pull off a comeback? It’s not clear that one is underway, said David Redlawsk, political science professor at Rutgers University.
” Gov. Christie was solid in the debate but it was probably not much of a breakthrough. On the other hand, I thought John Kasich was very strong and it seems like Kasich should be among the last group standing,” Redlawsk said.
“Trump provided entertainment but probably didn’t hurt himself. In the end though it will matter most who media and pundits are still talking about over the days to come.”
Bob Jordan 609-984-4343, bjordan@GannettNJ.com
(c)2015 the Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.)
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