Despite, or because of, Christie's brash ways, N.J. voters still approve

Gov. Christie posing with twins Pat Robinson (left) and Corrine Gleason in Ocean City last week. MEL EVANS / AP
Gov. Christie posing with twins Pat Robinson (left) and Corrine Gleason in Ocean City last week. MEL EVANS / AP
Posted: July 30, 2012

He talks smack to hecklers, reporters, political opponents, constituents, and at least one Navy SEAL.

His state's leading liberal blog, Blue Jersey, published an article analyzing whether he was a "sociopath." The same blog matter-of-factly described him with a seven-letter anatomical word as though it were his nickname.

Mainstream media likewise recoil at the personality - although not necessarily the policies - of Chris Christie. Inquirer opinion writers have often pointed out his proclivity to pounce on opponents, while a Courier-Post editorial this month said the governor "represents our state just as poorly as the buffoons on the trashy reality TV shows filmed in the Garden State."

Opined Tom Moran, veteran Star-Ledger columnist: "He is not, by any stretch, a nice guy."

The people of the state don't necessarily disagree. Asked by Quinnipiac University pollsters to choose a word to describe their governor, New Jerseyans picked bully more than any other. A distant second was arrogant. A curse word was farther down the list.

And yet: This supposedly abhorrent creature remains uber-popular. His approval ratings in the state have exceeded 50 percent for a year, with 60 percent of independents approving of the job he's doing. He is already in second place in polls for the Republican Iowa presidential caucuses . . . in 2016.

How is that possible? How can voters approve of a guy they also seem to think is kind of, you know, as Christie would say, a jerk?

"Part of the issue is, voters of New Jersey are probably a little more savvy than reporters," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Ouch.

"Even if New Jerseyans don't agree with everything that he's done, there's at least a sense that he's trying to shake things up, and that's what he gets credit for," Murray said. "And his outbursts are just part and parcel of that."

It's also a Jersey thing, veteran politicos say.

"It's a what-you-see-is-what-you-get image that the governor portrays, and that works very well here in New Jersey," Murray said.

At first, Murray thought that attitude might turn off voters if they construed it as crass political ambition. So he polled that question, and voters said that, of course, Christie wants to further his career - "this is just the way he goes about doing that, and we like it," as Murray put it.

The list of Christie's confrontations could fill a newspaper, and often does. Take the time he called an assemblywoman a "jerk" for questioning his fathering after the flap over his taking a state police helicopter to his son's baseball game. Or when he called an assemblyman "numbnuts" for likening Christie to a segregationist governor over his opposition to gay marriage.

The Navy SEAL who talked over the governor in an exchange about revamping the state university system? A reporter who asked an off-topic question at a news conference? Both got the gubernatorial "idiot" tag.

A woman who recorded a question for the governor on a call-in TV show about why he sends his kids to private school was greeted with this Christie response: "Hey, Gayle, you know what? First off, it's none of your business."

But it was the recent lead story on the gossip site TMZ.com that garnered more attention than maybe any other outburst because: A) He appeared to go after a heckler on the very Seaside Heights boardwalk where a show he hates, Jersey Shore, is filmed; and B) Politicians are never, ever supposed to show up on TMZ.

Maybe all the talk of Christie being tapped for vice president ebbed because Mitt Romney figures that brash, bully-boy mode won't play in Peoria. But it plays in Paramus. New Jersey seems to expect its governor to stand up to those who curse in front of the gubernatorial children (as he says the heckler did).

"There's a Jersey swagger - not just him, but all New Jerseyans," said Tom Wilson, the state Republican Party's former director. "We kind of have this, 'Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah? Well, $%&*&!' And I think there's a certain Jersey-guy attitude about the governor that people really connect with."

Wilson said some adjectives used to describe politicians - slick, packaged - don't apply.

"He is genuine, he is earnest, he is wear-it-on-your-sleeve, he gets angry, he gets emotional . . . They like the fact that he's a real guy."

In the latest Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll, Christie got 52 percent approval and 36 disapproval ratings, with 41 percent saying he actually helps the state's image around the nation.

To better understand voters' take on him, Krista Jenkins, poll director at Fairleigh Dickinson University, will release a survey this week that seeks to distinguish between New Jerseyans' feelings about his policies and his personality.

Jenkins said, "I think when it comes to New Jersey voters and Chris Christie, the way you describe the relationship is: 'It's complicated.' "


Contact Matt Katz

at 609-217-8355, mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mattkatz00.

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