Christie uses D.C. stalemate to draw a contrast

Gov. Christie's new reelection video emphasizes the Republican's record in reaching out to and working with Democrats.
Gov. Christie's new reelection video emphasizes the Republican's record in reaching out to and working with Democrats.
Posted: October 02, 2013

TRENTON With the federal government headed toward a shutdown, the reelection campaign of Gov. Christie on Monday began capitalizing on the moment to draw a contrast: Divided government in Washington has failed, but divided government in Trenton under the governor has worked.

Through a new hashtag on his Twitter feed, a campaign ad launching this week, and a series of recent public appearances with prominent Democrats, the Republican governor is playing to the bipartisan inclinations of Democratic New Jersey.

He's also in effect laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential run, when he could portray himself as a bipartisan savior after years of partisan gridlock.

Christie is seeking to remind voters in his race against State Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex) that he has dealt with the Democrats who control the Legislature on issues like tenure reform for teachers, economic-development incentives for corporations, and reductions in benefits for public workers.

The stalemate between Democratic President Obama and House Republicans, which appeared to be leading Monday to a government shutdown, gave Christie a new opportunity to drive the bipartisanship theme home with tweets carrying the hash tag "DearDC."

Attached to the tweets were videos of Christie speaking about bipartisanship.

The bipartisanship theme isn't something new - Christie has repeatedly said compromise is a basic tenet of his administration even as he has used terms like numb nuts to describe his political opponents.

In a July 2012 speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington, which was tweeted by Christie on Monday, the governor repeated his refrain about a "boulevard of compromise." He said he had met Democrats on that boulevard, while Washington politicians had failed to do so.

"The job of an executive is to make sure you get the job done, that you force people into a room and you find a way to get to compromise - not on every issue, some will be impossible to find compromise, but my experience is more often than not, you can find it," he said.

He even praised the state's Democratic leaders by name for working with him, and said New Jersey was setting an example for the country.

That message also emerges in Christie's latest campaign commercial, set to air this week as part of an existing $1.5 million ad buy in the New York and Philadelphia markets. Christie looks into the camera, ticks off a list of accomplishments, then says:

"Everything we've done has been a bipartisan accomplishment. It's my job to make sure that compromise happens. You see, as long as you stick to your principles, compromise isn't a dirty word."

Finding common ground in Trenton is likely easier than in the nation's capital. It has proved far more difficult for Obama to corral Washington's 535 legislators for compromise than it has for Christie to win over Trenton's 120.

Christie's success has come in part through his private negotiations with the leaders of two big blocs of Democratic votes in the Legislature - one in North Jersey, the other in South Jersey. When joined by Republicans, who almost always side with Christie, these Democratic blocs have often given the governor the votes he needs.

But there hasn't always been bipartisanship: Christie was the first New Jersey governor to see a nominee to the Supreme Court rejected by the state Senate. Then it happened a second time. He has also fought with Democrats over social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, both of which he opposes, and pocketbook issues such as tax cuts for the wealthy, which he supports.

A spokesman for the Buono campaign, David Turner, also noted that Christie defied Democrats and vetoed an increase in the minimum wage.

"With the stroke of his pen, the governor could ensure [marriage] equality and raise the minimum wage for New Jerseyans. Rejecting the overwhelming majority of his constituents, he vetoed both because they did not match the values of national Republicans he is trying to court," Turner said. "That's not bipartisan. That's putting his own ambitions above the people he's supposed to represent."

But Christie's public appearances serve as a rebuttal of the Buono message, as he has spent the home stretch of the campaign appearing with the state's most prominent Democrats.

Essex County Executive Joseph "Joe D." DiVincenzo, considered the most powerful Democrat in North Jersey, has endorsed Christie and repeatedly tagged along with him on the campaign trail.

Two weeks ago, Christie glad-handed the top two elected Democrats, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, at a bill-signing ceremony for a new economic development incentive program. And last week he was photographed laughing with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the Democratic Senate candidate, at a groundbreaking ceremony in Booker's city.

On Wednesday, Christie will again appear with Sweeney at Rowan University for the groundbreaking of a new engineering building paid for through a $750 million capital program. The program was approved by voters after being jointly pushed by Christie and the Democrats.

Last month, Christie repeatedly hugged Democratic Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd during a visit to a city school. And next Monday he is scheduled to be back in Camden for the opening of a new cancer center at Cooper University Hospital, where he'll share the stage with George E. Norcross III, the chairman of the hospital, part-owner of The Inquirer - and the state's preeminent Democratic power broker.

609-217-8355 @mattkatz00

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