As Christie era wanes, Jersey GOP has little to show for it
As Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno vied for last-minute votes over the frenzied final days of the New Jersey governor’s race, Chris Christie never showed up on the stump. In fact, the governor has not appeared in public once to support Guadagno, who has been by his side for more than eight years.
With Christie’s approval hitting 14 percent among likely voters in a recent poll, it’s not hard to not see why. Once considered by many to be the future of the Republican party, Christie is now too toxic for the very people who helped put him in power.
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But for the GOP in New Jersey, Christie’s political legacy goes beyond the traffic jam that helped destroy his reputation and his star-crossed alliance with Donald Trump. It isn’t just about a public distaste for the governor. Christie, some say, put his own future ahead of his party — openly embracing Democrats when he could have extended coattails to Republicans.
“I think Chris Christie has destroyed the Republican brand in New Jersey for a political generation,” said Matt Hale, a professor at Seton Hall University.
Christie was beaten down by the bridge scandal, left behind as a second-tier presidential candidate, fired from Trump’s transition team and passed over for the job he wanted in the administration.
Then, in July, he sat on a state beach that he had closed to the public in the midst of a government shutdown, and thumbed his nose at anyone who questioned the optics of his family vacation.
By any measure, Christie is a politician at rock bottom. A staggering 84 percent of voters in New Jersey say he has had no major accomplishments since taking office, according to a poll released Monday. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out” is how Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind describes the findings of the survey.
For Republicans in New Jersey, the governor’s public image is, in itself, a lot to overcome. But, arguably, Christie did little to boost the party when his image burned bright.
After defeating Democrat Jon Corzine in the 2009 election, Christie set out to win the support of as many local officials as possible — especially Democrats. He dangled goodies, from NFL tickets to steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, in front of mayors of both parties. He stood side-by-side with many Democrats in the run-up to his re-election in 2013.
After a landslide victory that year, Christie went on to bigger things: He hit the road to help his party as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, his colleagues back home left to fend for themselves. Between his RGA work and his run for president, Christie at one point spent most of a year outside New Jersey. He also used state party money to help with Bridgegate legal bills and to pay for jet flights around the country.
Even after winning two elections in a state with 800,000 more Democrats than Republicans, his party gave up a half-dozen seats in the 120-member Legislature, giving more power to Democrats, who were already in solid control.
And now, as his hand-picked lieutenant governor fights to keep alive her shot at winning the governorship today — polls showing trailing Democrat Phil Murphy by double digits — Christie is nowhere to be found.
His absence from the political scene was especially noticeable over the weekend as Guadagno and Murphy, crisscrossed the state in get-out-the-vote efforts that could prove key in what’s likely to be a low-turnout election.
As Murphy got a boost from musician Jon Bon Jovi, a former Christie supporter, Guadagno brought in some big-name surrogates of her own — the first she’s had since the race began.
There was Tom Kean Sr., Christie’s political mentor and the most popular governor in the state’s history. And Christie Whitman, a Republican who led state government for most of the 1990s, was with her on Saturday.
But at no point did the state’s sitting governor show up. Guadagno dodged questions about why her boss wasn’t there, putting her emphasis on today’s election.
“This campaign is about me and my record and my values,” Guadagno said in an interview on Saturday, echoing remarks she made in her primary victory speech five months ago.
Christie had already made clear the ball was in Guadagno’s court. “If I’m asked for help, I’ll certainly give it,” Christie said over the summer. “I have not been asked for any help.”
The governor has used his perch to play attack dog, employing his rhetorical-might to rip into proposals presented by Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany who wants to raise taxes, legalize marijuana, offer free community college and create a “fairer economy for all.”