New Jersey governor praises peers in other states
OXON HILL, Md. – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrived at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday at one of the most difficult moments of his political career: The investigations into his administration’s mammoth traffic jam continue, his poll numbers have plunged, and the socially conservative GOP voters who dominate this gathering have always been his biggest hurdle in a potential quest for the presidency.
But with surprisingly expansive comments on his opposition to abortion, the New Jersey governor drew a warm reception before a group that did not even invite him last year, a slight ascribed to organizers’ criticism of his conservative credentials.
He also touted his challenges to New Jersey public employee unions, while lavishing praise on a number of his potential rivals – a demonstration of his desire to be a good soldier for the party as the new head of the Republican Governor’s Association.
Scorning leaders in Washington who “can’t stop talking,” Christie praised Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for standing up for collective bargaining reform, Ohio Gov. John Kasich for lowering taxes and boosting employment, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for making his state, the home of the United Auto Workers, a right-to-work state.
“Governors are about getting things done,” said Christie, who urged his fellow Republicans to be more specific about what they are for rather than what they are against. “Governors are about making things work and keeping government out of people’s lives as much as they can.”
But even with a standing ovation as he opened and polite applause throughout his speech, Christie’s steep climb back to presidential viability was evident in interviews with attendees.
Wilma Hicks, a retired secretary from Shreveport, La., said she could not get past his administration’s involvement in the multiday closure of several lanes approaching the George Washington Bridge in an apparent case of political payback.
“I just thought that was terrible, and I don’t think he was telling the truth about not knowing, and that lessened my opinion of him,” said Hicks, who had just cast her vote for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in CPAC’s presidential straw poll, the results of which will be tallied Saturday.
“He really does give a good presentation – today, it was really good,” she said of Christie’s speech. “But I wouldn’t have faith in him.”
William Travascio, a 21-year-old student, said he was pleased to see Christie invited, and “glad there was a big outpouring of support for him.” But he found the New Jersey governor’s speech underwhelming.
“I was looking for something more powerful – something more Chris Christie-ish,” Travascio said. “When you see him on TV speaking to people in New Jersey, he’s very bold. Very grandiose. I was expecting him to attack the president more. And maybe to attack the party a little bit.”
The conference sponsored by the American Conservative Union at a resort hotel on the Potomac River outside Washington is the largest annual gathering of conservatives each year. Thousands of attendees flocked here at a time when the Republican Party is fractured policy-wise and yet poised to potentially control both houses of Congress if current trends persist through the November election.
For the potential White House aspirants speaking during the three-day session, the event is a key proving ground and an opportunity to test campaign messaging.
Thursday marked Christie’s first major speech on a national stage since the bridge scandal erupted in January.
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