Look what the storm blew in: A re­vival for Christie, if not GOP

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

SEA­SIDE PARK, N.J. | It may well be re­mem­bered as the em­brace that built a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s warm wel­come of Pres­i­dent Obama last year, in the midst of early ef­forts to re­cover from Su­per­storm Sandy, hurt the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor with some con­ser­va­tives, but polls show it has been a re­sound­ing suc­cess in his state, which has re­ceived bil­lions of dol­lars in fed­eral aid and where he is poised to win re-elec­tion next week.

“The ev­i­dence is in­con­tro­vert­ible that Sandy is what re­ally put this in the bag for Chris Christie,” said Pa­trick Mur­ray, di­rec­tor of the Mon­mouth Univer­sity Polling In­sti­tute. “He was al­ready go­ing to be a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent to bring down, but when Sandy hit, for­get about it.”

On Tues­day, the first an­niver­sary of the storm’s land­fall in New Jersey, Mr. Christie will hold 10 events across the state to take stock of the re­build­ing. On Wed­nes­day, he kicks off a week­long New Jersey bus tour as he looks to the Nov. 5 elec­tion.

On a na­tional scale, some Repub­li­cans are look­ing to Mr. Christie for a model of how they might win the White House in 2016.

In­deed, while Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton strug­gle to learn the lessons of the party’s post-2012 de­feat, Mr. Christie ap­pears to have made in­roads with all of the con­stituen­cies that the 2012 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Mitt Rom­ney, failed to reach.

“I think Chris Christie ap­peals to pre­cisely those con­stituen­cies that the Repub­li­can Party’s re­port in­di­cate we need to do much bet­ter with: That is women, young peo­ple, and that is mi­nori­ties,” said Bob­bie Kil­berg, a top Repub­li­can fundraiser. “He also, which is equally im­por­tant, speaks to men and older peo­ple. His ge­nius is that he cuts across all po­lit­i­cal spec­trums. Ev­ery­one can re­late to Chris Christie.”

Be­fore the storm, Mr. Christie had a fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ing of 48 per­cent pos­i­tive to 42 per­cent neg­a­tive, for a plus-6 per­cent­age point rat­ing. Just 22 per­cent of New Jersey Democrats, 43 per­cent of women and 22 per­cent of blacks in the state rated him fa­vor­ably.

Now, his net fa­vor­a­bil­ity is plus-33 per­cent­age points, and 38 per­cent of Democrats, 58 per­cent of women and 51 per­cent of non­white vot­ers rate him fa­vor­ably. He also is per­form­ing well among 18- to 39-year-olds, who give him a 60 per­cent fa­vor­able rat­ing.

More strik­ing is that New Jersey vot­ers still dis­ap­prove of him on his han­dling of key is­sues such as taxes and the econ­omy, but when it comes to Su­per­storm Sandy re­cov­ery, he re­ceives an 85 per­cent ap­proval in sur­veys from the Ea­gle­ton Center for Pub­lic In­ter­est Polling at Rut­gers Univer­sity.

“His gen­eral fa­vor­a­bil­ity and ap­proval rat­ings have all gone up even though peo­ple don’t like what he has done on things like the econ­omy and taxes,” said David P. Red­lawsk, di­rec­tor of the Ea­gle­ton Center.

Shaquille O’Neal, a Ne­wark na­tive and re­tired Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion all-star, helped Mr. Christie’s cause over the weekend by declar­ing in a tele­vi­sion ad, “I don’t en­dorse many politi­cians, but Chris Christie is dif­fer­ent.”

“He’s a good man,” Mr. O’Neal said in the ad, where he com­pli­ments Mr. Christie’s ed­u­ca­tion and jobs agenda. “Ex­cuse me, he’s a great man. Please join me in sup­port­ing Chris Christie — the gov­er­nor.”

Jeff Tit­tel, di­rec­tor of the New Jersey chap­ter of the Sierra Club, said Su­per­storm Sandy has helped hide Mr. Christie’s pol­icy mis­steps and the blem­ishes on his record, and makes him ap­pear more bi­par­ti­san than he re­ally is.

“In the be­gin­ning, he came off look­ing re­ally great as a strong leader, but about a year later he is re­fus­ing to an­swer ques­tions and the ad­min­is­tra­tion is not help­ing peo­ple who are still out of their homes. Go­ing on “Let­ter­man” and eat­ing a dough­nut is great the­ater, but there are still 20,000 to 30,000 that don’t have homes,” Mr. Tit­tel said, al­lud­ing to Mr. Christie’s ap­pear­ance this year on CBS’ “Late Show With David Let­ter­man.” “Most peo­ple down the shore are an­gry.”

If he wins re-elec­tion by a con­vinc­ing mar­gin, Mr. Christie will so­lid­ify his case that he should be part of any 2016 pres­i­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions.

“There is no gen­der gap in our polls, there is a good chance he will win His­pan­ics and he will get a good chunk of African-Amer­i­cans,” Mr. Mur­ray said. “This is ex­actly the kind of can­di­date that Repub­li­can lead­er­ship is look­ing for in a party that can’t sur­vive on white men alone.”

Still to be seen, how­ever, is whether Repub­li­can vot­ers in early pri­mary and cau­cus states take to the tough-talk­ing gov­er­nor.

Some Repub­li­can lead­ers were crit­i­cal last year of Mr. Christie, who was an early sup­porter of Mr. Rom­ney but who fo­cused on Sandy re­cov­ery in the fi­nal days of the elec­tion and gave a warm wel­come to Mr. Obama.

Seek­ing to do dam­age con­trol, Mr. Christie this weekend de­nied that he hugged the pres­i­dent and told the Philadel­phia Inquirer that the two men ex­changed a nor­mal hand­shake.

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