It wasn’t exactly a Tony Soprano moment when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced Tuesday he will run for president. But like the no-nonsense television gangster to whom he is sometimes compared, he vowed to be tough and tell it like it is.
“I am now ready to fight for the people of the United States of America,” Christie said in a speech at his former high school in Livingston, New Jersey. “America is tired of handwringing and indecisiveness and weakness in the Oval Office. We need strength and authority and decision-making.”
Christie becomes the 14th Republican candidate to join the field of presidential hopefuls. So far there are four Democratic challengers, including Hillary Clinton, who is widely considered the front runner for her party. Christie has been governor since 2010, following six years as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.
Straight-talking and blunt, sometimes to the point of offensiveness, Christie faces an uphill battle as his popularity has waned in recent years, following a re-election landslide in 2013 that gave him credence in the Republican party for his ability to decisively win a traditionally blue state. And the realities of his state’s economic record are less than stellar, which should make small-business owners wary.
“It is hard to see what Christie’s accomplishments are, and candidates like to be able to point to them,” says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a policy think tank in Washington, D.C.
New Jersey has recovered less than 70 percent of jobs lost since the financial crisis, compared to a national average of nearly twice that amount, placing it near the bottom for states for private sector job growth since 2009. Revenue growth has also languished, with tax receipts down 10 percent from a pre-recession peak of $8.5 billion in 2014, according to recent research conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
While Christie has shown a propensity to blame President Obama for his state’s economic woes, that strategy isn’t likely to hold water with his Republican competitors in the primaries, says John Hudak, a fellow in government studies at Brookings Institution, the public policy think tank.
“Blaming Obama will be a liability, when other candidates can say they did just fine,” Hudak says.
In addition to economic difficulties in his home state, Christie faces a lingering scandal over the 2013 closure of George Washington Bridge, allegedly conducted by the governor’s aides as an act of political retribution against a local mayor. Christie was also widely criticized in 2012 for axing a multibillion dollar rail link between Manhattan and New Jersey that might have created tens of thousands of jobs, and opportunities for small businesses.
But in other regards, Christie has burnished his credentials in the Republican field by taking on unions, most prominently by cutting the state’s pension fund by billions of dollars and reducing payments to union pensioners. The move led to a lawsuit, which unions lost on appeal at the State Supreme Court level in June.
In recent weeks, in a speech at the University of New Hampshire, Christie laid out some of his national economic plans, which reportedly include compressing the number of personal tax brackets to three from six, with a top rate of 28 percent. He said he’d also decrease the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent, down from its current 35 percent. A number of candidates including Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Texas Governor Rick Perry have put forth similar ideas for tax reform.
Perhaps the biggest problem for Christie to overcome, however, is that he doesn’t poll well in his home state, which is obviously a crucial launching point for his campaign. Just 30 percent of Garden State residents regard Christie favorably, according to a late June poll by Farleigh Dickinson University. That’s down six percentage points from April. Similarly, 55 percent of those polled say they disapprove of the governor, an increase of five points since April.
Yet while most policy experts consider a Christie candidacy a long shot in an increasingly crowded field with candidates that include early front runners, such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Paul, others also say that Christie is a wily politician and shouldn’t be discounted too quickly.
He was elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2014, reeling in $100 million for candidates, and helping Republicans win against Democrats in seven tight races that year, says Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, who specializes in national politics. So Christie has political capital to spend.
“As chair of the RGA, that enabled him to go around the country to hand out money to Republican candidates,” Whalen says. “That was a chance for him to meet people and make connections and network.”