'Big Boy' Christie fires up Republicans

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie works his 'tough-guy magic' during keynote speech at national convention in Florida.

    'Big Boy' Christie fires up Republicans
    Christie's bombastic style should act as a counterweight to Romney's approach, dubbed as 'robotic' by critics [EPA]

    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has become a rising star in the Republican party, although his high-profile status has at times made him a favoured whipping boy of the Democrats.

    His rapid ascent since becoming governor in 2010 reached its latest phase on Tuesday when he delivered the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

    To loud cheers from the floor, Christie told delegates it was time to "take back this country".

    Focusing on the economy, he said: "Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good paying private sector jobs again in America."

    Born and raised in Newark, the largest city in the state, Christie, who was affectionately dubbed "Big Boy" by former President George W Bush, shies away from neither praise nor criticism.

    Unafraid to say where he stands on controversial issues, for example on abortion, Christie has earned a reputation as a brash, shoot-from-the-hip politician.

    "I am pro-life, I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. That's my position, take it or leave it," he once said.

    Despite being sometimes delivered in a somewhat trenchant style, Christie's opinions are not those of a hot-headed ideologue, but of a politically savvy thinker.

    Bob Ingle, senior political columnist for New Jersey Press Media and the co-author of "Chris Christie: The Insider Story of His Rise to Power" told Al Jazeera that Christie is a pragmatist who grew up with a Democrat for a mother and a Republican for a father.

    "He had to weave his way through their views. Nationally, Christie is a moderate. But at home he is the most conservative governor New Jersey ever had," said Ingle.

    Christie's career in politics started when he was elected a member of the county legislator (called "freeholders" in New Jersey) in 1995, an office he held until 1998.

    A lawyer since 1987, when he earned a law degree from Seton Hall University, Christie became New Jersey's district attorney in 2002.

    When Christie resigned in 2008, to make room for US President Barack Obama’s appointment to the office, he was seen as one to watch.

    Although he beat incumbent Jon Corzine in 2009 to become governor of New Jersey, it was bruising a fight, and one that Ingle said might have been the reason Christie, considered a potential presidential nominee, stayed out of this year's contest.

    "… Corzine, a Democrat, threw $30m at him trying to destroy his credibility and he may not have looked forward to that on a national scale," said Ingle.

    No-bid controversy

    For the seven years he served as a federal prosecutor, Christie distinguished himself by being tough on corruption, targeting public officials.

    "[Christie] is their best communicator, and he's proven that he can win support from independent voters.

    "That makes him very appealing on a national stage."

    -   Tom Moran, editorial page editor of the Newark-based Star Ledger

    He racked up 130 convictions with zero acquittals - a perfect record. But he has also been criticised for awarding some questionable contracts during his term.

    In 2007, Christie gave David N Kelley, a former US lawyer, a no-bid contract. Kelley had chosen not to prosecute Christie's brother, Todd, in a 2005 fraud case.

    Christie also gave a consulting firm belonging to his ex-boss, the former US attorney general John Ashcroft, a contract worth as much as $52m in 2007 for monitoring a medical supply company.

    "The no-bid contracts did not hurt him much ...The people who got them were Republicans so it certainly would not have hurt him with the GOP," said Ingle.

    "In New Jersey, no-bid contracts are a way of life."

    In June 2009, Christie walked out on a congressional panel questioning him on the no-bid contracts, saying he had to attend to some "pressing business" and that he had given the panel "enough" answers.

    'Important reforms'

    As governor, Christie, who took office in 2010, returned to his tough-guy stance, this time taking aim at state finances.

    He slashed the state budget and cut $86m from several programmes, building New Jersey's cash reserves instead.

    "He's accomplished some important reforms," said Tom Moran, the editorial page editor of the Newark-based Star Ledger newspaper.

    "The biggest is the pension and health reform. That burden was growing fast, but the public worker unions had long resisted needed reform, and they are probably the most powerful special interest group in the state."

    "Christie won bipartisan agreement on plan that trims benefits, and increases contributions from both the workers and the government."

    But Christie's administration fell $542m short of its revenue projections, and Moran said that Christie "wildly overstates his accomplishments", especially in claiming that New Jersey's economy is in recovery.

    "New Jersey is not having a comeback. It has 9.8 per cent unemployment, its credit rating has gotten worse, and the property tax burden remains punishing to the middle-class. He has much more work to do," said Moran.

    'Rock star' 

    The position of keynote speaker at a party's national convention can be a way for the party to showcase its brightest stars.

    Seen as a fiscal conservative, Christie's role at the convention
    is seen a 'tip of the hat' to the Tea Party [RNC Website]

    It was his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention that introduced many Americans to then Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

    Mitt Romney's, the Republican presidential candidate, choice of Christie to address the Tampa convention appears to be a shrewd choice. 

    Robert Hockett, professor of financial regulation at Cornell University's law school, said Christie "fills a space within the Republican party - that of the northeastern tough guy".

    "People take a certain delight in the fact this is guy is willing to be rude, willing to be brusque," said Hockett.

    Whether he's the GOP's new Rudy Giuliani (the former mayor of New York) or not, Christie's status as a rising star is unquestionable.

    "He is seen as a rock star," said Moran of Christie's place in the Republican party.

    "He's their best communicator, and he's proven that he can win support from independent voters.

    "That makes him very appealing on a national stage. Still, he is volatile, he picks fights for no good reason and comes across as a bully."

    Tea Party appeal

    Romney's choice of Christie also gives the Republicans - generally considered to be the party of the south or southwest -a regionally diverse flavour, even if it meant choosing him over the other main contender, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, to help draw the Latino vote.

    Hockett says the choice of Christie speaks to the party's need to draw Tea Party members to the Romney-Ryan ticket [EPA]

    Instead, Rubio, who was also tipped as potential vice presidential nominee (but lost out to Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan) will introduce Romney at the convention.

    Despite the choice of Rubio, Hockett says that with the selection of Christie and Ryan the party "are abandoning the pretence that they are sometimes trying to maintain, to the effect that they really are an ethnically or demographically diverse party".

    He said the choice to feature Christie so prominently speaks to the party's need to draw Tea Party members to the Romney-Ryan ticket.

    Despite appointing an openly gay man to the New Jersey state Supreme Court, Christie has vetoed bills on marriage equality (allowing homosexuals to get married in New Jersey) and on the decriminalisation of marijuana.

    His image and his brand of fiscal conservativism also fits the bill for both Republicans and Tea Party supporters.

    Presidential ambitions

    "He [Christie] sort of bills himself as, and tries to conform to, the image of the classic Tea Party-type political figure, somebody who wants to cut government spending at virtually all cost, even if it puts economic recovery at risk," said Hockett.

    "He’s almost theologically committed to the idea of spending without even looking with any care at what effect such cutting has. It's almost like it's become an article of faith.

    "So featuring him in the convention is another way to sort of tip the hat to the Tea Partiers and energise them about the Republican ticket," said Hockett.

    On October 4, 2011, addressing speculation that he might run for the presidency, Christie said: "Now is not my time. New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me."

    Just how long New Jersey will be stuck with their governor is a matter of debate.

    "I am convinced, as are most people who watch him, that his central political purpose is to win the presidency. He will move when he sees an opportunity," said Moran.

    Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: @Dparvaz



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