"New Jersey has had a history of separating national issues from state issues," explains pollster Patrick Murray of Monmouth University. This allows voters to like the way Christie is handling the state and the way Obama is handling the country.
Murray said that despite the state's blue reputation, New Jerseyans lean conservative on money matters. So a Republican who addresses fiscal issues (property taxes) without wading too far into the social issues that sometimes preoccupy the national party will prove to be popular.
Another Republican governor who fashioned herself similarly, Christine Todd Whitman, enjoyed approval ratings higher than 60 percent at one point in her term in the 1990s.
Yes, Christie has conditionally vetoed a gay-marriage bill - but Democrats thrust that upon him. Yes, he addressed an antiabortion rally outside the Statehouse last year - but he has barely uttered a peep about abortion since then.
In fact, when controversy flared earlier this year over a Republican plan in Virginia to require transvaginal ultrasounds before abortions, Christie wouldn't go anywhere near the topic.
"I don't even know what the phrase means, I don't think I want to know what the phrase means, and you can be sure I'm not saying it from behind this podium," Christie said at a February news conference in Palisades Park.
For his part, Christie said last week that he thinks his poll numbers are at the highest of his term because New Jerseyans "appreciate the fact that I tell the truth. They appreciate the fact that I don't take any crap."
He noted that such numbers are temporary, and he doesn't "govern by polls."
Until about a year ago, Obama was doing better than Christie. That flipped in the fall, Murray said, in the aftermath of both Christie's "get the hell off the beach" exhortation during the hurricane and his prolonged flirtation with a run for president. "People felt he did a good job representing New Jersey on the national stage, and for whatever reason, those numbers have stayed high since then," Murray said.
In a recent analysis of the most popular governors, the Washington Post looked at approval ratings and the difficulty of the agendas that governors have pursued. New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo came in first (73 percent approval ratings!); Christie was second. The paper wrote: "Despite his tough rhetoric, 54 percent say he's a leader, while 39 percent (read: Democrats) say he's a bully. And considering he recently called a law student an 'idiot,' that's a pretty good split."
Interestingly, if Christie were Mitt Romney's running mate, Romney might still lose New Jersey. Obama leads Romney 49 percent to 40 in the state, according to a poll released last week by Quinnipiac. With Christie on the ticket, the Obama lead barely drops: 49 percent to 42.
So Christie's popularity in New Jersey goes only so far, Murray said. He might be popular, but not enough to outweigh Jerseyans' general distaste for the social issues favored by the national GOP.
New Jersey likes each politician for different reasons, according to Peter Woolley, a pollster at Fairleigh Dickinson University. While Obama excels in a big-speech setting, Christie's talent is when he's blunt and off-the-cuff.
"In most ways they're mirror opposites, but the one way they're similar is they please a lot of voters," Woolley said.
But only voters in Jersey: "This is a Jersey thing."
Contact Matt Katz at 609-217-8355 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on
Twitter @mattkatz00. Read his blog,
"Christie Chronicles," at www.philly.com/christiechronicles.