Op-Ed: Chris Christie’s Place Is at Home

| October 6, 2011 2:59 PM video

So the Chris Christie watch is finally over. The governor ultimately decided that the timing was off and that he is too much of a “Jersey guy” to run for president right now.

Gov. Chris Christie holds a press conference in Trenton announcing he will not run for president. Photo courtesy of Gov. Chris Christie.

He had to decide now. Every day he waited, the political theater was becoming more and more surreal. Even though he hadn’t announced that he was running for president, he was beginning to be attacked from all sides as if he were a full-blown candidate.

The conservative right was hitting him on his positions on gun control, immigration policy and same-sex marriage. Some liberal media outlets were preemptively blasting him. President Obama basically dared him to run after Christie criticized the president in a speech at a rally in Baton Rouge: “If you’re looking for leadership in America you’re not going to find it in the Oval Office,” Christie said. Trust me, Obama would much rather face Romney or Perry than Christie. The latest Quinnipiac Poll showed that the New Jersey governor was more popular than any other declared Republican candidate and that in a match-up with Obama, Christie would get 45 percent of the vote to the president’s 42 percent. 

It’s funny when it comes to politics in campaigns. Candidates are always more attractive from a distance. But did you ever notice that as soon as they jump in, the media, the pundits and, of course, their political enemies begin to pick them apart and then they don’t look so good anymore? Christie knew that. And my sense after knowing him for over a decade is that while he wasn’t afraid of running for president, he just wasn’t convinced that the timing was right. He knew that if he rolled the dice and then lost either the Republican primary or a head-to-head race with Obama, it would be extremely difficult to come back to New Jersey and run for re-election in 2013.

I first met and interviewed then newly appointed U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in 2002. Together with my colleague at WNET, Rafael Pi Roman, we would press Christie in a variety of important and controversial issues. It was the first interview Christie did in his new post. He was brash, green and outspoken, but afterwards, Raf and I agreed that there was something there and that he was unlike many of the public figures we had interviewed over the years. Since then, I’ve interviewed Christie over a dozen times including as part of our “On the Line” live call-in series with whoever is sitting in the New Jersey governor’s seat.

WATCH VIDEO:

NJToday talks to NJTV contributors Steve Adubato and Rafael Pi Roman about Gov. Chris Christie’s decision not to run for president in 2012, and their past experiences interviewing the governor. Video courtesy of NJToday.

Christie knows the heartbeat of New Jersey. He understands the sense of pride New Jerseyans feel and the fact that way too often we’ve been seen as a stepchild of New York or, for some politicians, a stepping stone to something “bigger.”

In announcing that he wasn’t running, there was a classic Christie line; “New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me.” (Another YouTube moment.) You can be assured that this is exactly what Christie is going to remind New Jersey voters of when he runs for reelection in a couple of years. He is going to be able to say, legitimately, “I could have run for president, but I decided to stay here in my home state with the people I care about most.” His hope is that voters, even those that disagree with some of his policies, will show him the love back and give him four more years (or at least three until he opts to run for president in 2016). 

I’m not saying it would have been easy — and I’m not convinced he would have won — but it would have been a hell of a race. Christie could have been a real contender for president.

The other practical obstacle was that it is impossible to run an effective presidential campaign — particularly so late in the game — and still be an effective chief executive in New Jersey. New Jersey’s state constitution makes New Jersey’s governor one of the most powerful in the country. Our governor has line item veto power, which most other governors do not have. Our governor appoints members to the State Supreme Court and makes lots of other top judicial appointments.

Gov. Chris Christie announces his approval of a constitutionally balanced budget in June 2011. Despite urging from conservatives, Christie opted not to parlay his popularity into a run for president in 2012. Photo courtesy of Chris Christie.

In the end, I’m convinced Christie made the right decision, not just for himself politically, but for the state. He is still going to have to deal with legitimate criticism of his policies. And I will continue to disagree with him on his support of the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax” and his opposition to same-sex marriage; but overall, it is a good thing for New Jersey that the rest of the country looked at our governor and many of them said; “Why not? Why couldn’t New Jersey’s governor be president?”

I’m not saying it would have been easy — and I’m not convinced he would have won — but it would have been a hell of a race. Christie could have been a real contender for president. Either way, all this attention has shown that New Jersey can elect a leader that lots of other folks in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and South Carolina look at and admire. But for now, Chris Christie is staying home. He is stuck with us, and we are stuck with him, and somehow that seems the way it is supposed to be…at least for now. 

Steve Adubato, Ph.D., currently anchors three PBS broadcasts — Caucus: New Jersey, NJ Capitol Report, and One-on-One with Steve Adubato. He also conducts interviews for NJ Today, which airs weeknights on NJTV and covers news, politics and policy from across the state. At 26, he was elected the youngest member of New Jersey’s legislature, where he served three years. He holds a doctorate in Mass Communications from Rutgers University.

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