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Christie leaving governor’s office as Democrat takes over

In this April 18, 2013, file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie discusses employment and homeowner rebates while addressing a gathering near the Atlantic Ocean in Long Branch, N.J. (Mel Evans / Associated Press)
In this April 18, 2013, file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie discusses employment and homeowner rebates while addressing a gathering near the Atlantic Ocean in Long Branch, N.J. (Mel Evans / Associated Press)
By Michael Catalini Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey will say farewell to blunt-talking Republican Gov. Chris Christie as a wealthy former Obama administration diplomat and businessman is sworn in as governor.

Democrat Phil Murphy, 60, is set to take the oath of office Tuesday at a ceremony in Trenton, as Christie returns to life as a private citizen after two terms as governor and nearly a decade as the state’s U.S. attorney.

Murphy said the inauguration represents more than a transfer of power, casting the event in the same language he used throughout the campaign to succeed Christie.

“It is going to be a celebration of all that’s right about our state and of our uniting to build a stronger and fairer New Jersey,” he said.

Christie said farewell in his final state of the state address last week, using the speech to cite accomplishments during his two terms and to issue a warning that some could come undone.

“I leave you today grateful, happy and a better man than I was when I walked in here for the first time eight years ago,” he said.

It’s hard to imagine New Jersey getting a higher contrast between Christie and Murphy.

Christie, a friend and one-time adviser to Republican President Donald Trump, has conservative views on taxes, opposes marijuana legalization and fights bitterly with labor unions over public pensions and education spending.

Murphy built his campaign around undoing the Trump administration’s efforts on health care, immigration and taxes. He promises to raise taxes on millionaires and legalize recreational marijuana, allies himself with unions and says he will increase pension payments and school aid.

Murphy has never held political office and earned his fortune, which he used to help win the Democratic nomination last year, as an executive at Goldman Sachs. Christie served in county government and private practice as an attorney before George W. Bush appointed him as a federal prosecutor. He doesn’t have Murphy’s fortune and has said he wants to make money when he leaves office.

Christie is deeply unpopular as he leaves office, with his job approval rating in polls in the teens. The dip is stark because he was incredibly popular after his handling of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. Christie says he didn’t buy the poll numbers when he was near 80 percent and doesn’t put stock in them now.

Having won re-election in New Jersey overwhelmingly in 2013, he was once viewed as his party’s hope for winning the presidency, but those hopes fizzled after the George Washington Bridge scandal. His own presidential run failed and his popularity at home began to dip as he spent more time out of the state.

Experts say Christie achieved significant results and that he would be leaving office on a high note if it weren’t for the bridge scandal, his presidential run and his support for Trump.

“For a man who has this level of political talent, a once-in-a-generation-kind of political talent, the last four years were wasted,” said Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.

Murphy comes into office as a little known figure after his November victory in a low-turnout election. An October Quinnipiac University poll showed a fifth of voters didn’t know or hadn’t heard enough about Murphy to have an opinion. The survey talked to 1,049 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percent.

That figure could shrink in the coming months since New Jersey’s governor is among the most powerful in the country, with the authority to appoint judges, prosecutors and hundreds of other officials, and is often in the spotlight.

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