But Christie honed his reputation even before Sandy arrived. He's branded himself as a no-nonsense leader who cuts through traditional party lines and gets things done. And Christie's a master salesman who sells his brand at countless town hall meetings throughout the nation's most densely populated state. His approach to governing begins and ends with old-fashioned retail politics, backed up by a sophisticated, lightning-quick social media effort that takes full advantage of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and all the other tools at its disposal.
But it's not all image. Christie actually makes things happen. He reformed the state's employee pension system. He fought for and won a cap on local government spending. And he opened the door to education reform with a historic breakthrough on teacher accountability.
In each case the governor got less than what he wanted. But he also achieved more than what most people expected him to achieve because he's willing to work across party lines. In short, Christie can boast an impressive list of first-term accomplishments.
So, what is his aim now? Clearly, he wants to be reelected in a rout. He'll run hard against even a second- or third-tier candidate to make the Garden State Christieville from Cape May to High Point.
Of course, that assumes all those Democrats who say they like Christie now will actually vote for him in November. A risky bet, some might argue. Remember, President George H.W. Bush had a 90 percent approval rating 19 months before his reelection bid, and he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992. Republicans can never count on the goodwill of Democrats, and this New Jersey Republican has also made some in the GOP unhappy with his storm-induced embrace of President Obama and his recent trashing of House Speaker John Boehner.
But let's say Christie wins reelection, even in a veritable landslide. What then? Well, New Jerseyans might not see much of him after that.
Christie would spend 2014 campaigning for GOP candidates throughout the country. He builds up lots more IOUs. He preaches about a "big tent" Republican Party that includes everyone, seeks common ground, and fights for votes in places that Democrats take for granted. Christie proclaims that you can do the "Big Things" (as he likes to say) and hold on to your principles.
While he's doing all this, Christie also tests the waters in New Hampshire, Iowa, and other early presidential primary states.
Oh, there will be obstacles, to be sure. The battle zone is likely to be crowded. Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush. Maybe Paul Ryan. Probably more.
To be a real contender, Christie will likely have to slim down, just to keep pace. He'll also have to beef up: growing his staff and organization, and getting up to snuff on key national and international issues. And he may have to sandpaper some of the rough edges of his public persona while retaining just enough moxie to make it matter.
President Obama's reelection victory notwithstanding, Americans are still worried, and they're still thirsting for a "can-do" leader who can fix a broken government and make it work again. If that doesn't happen in Washington in the next four years, voters will start looking elsewhere.
At that point, Christie could be positioned as the breakthrough (or part of the breakthrough) that the GOP may seek - a new, bold, decisive, pragmatism to tackle the nation's problems. Call it a consensus for common sense.
If that moment arrives, Chris Christie will be more than ready.
Daniel Cirucci is a lifelong New Jersey resident who blogs at dancirucci.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.