New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, enjoying record approval ratings for his response to Hurricane Sandy, will seek a second term next year to help rebuild the state after its coastline was ravaged by the storm.
Christie, 50, is entering the final year of his first term. The Republican said his campaign treasurer filed papers yesterday officially declaring his re-election bid, a move that lets him raise and spend money for the effort.
“I’m in this race and I’m in it to win,” the governor said yesterday to applause in a Port Monmouth firehouse, where he thanked firefighters, rescue workers and volunteers for helping Sandy victims. Christie said the filing with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission followed discussions with his wife, Mary Pat, and their four children.
Christie’s job-approval rating climbed to a record 72 percent last week in a Quinnipiac University poll, the highest it has measured for any New Jersey governor, according to the Hamden, Connecticut-based school. The storm, which swept ashore near Atlantic City Oct. 29 with hurricane-force winds and surging flood waters, left 37 people dead in the state while blacking out 2.7 million.
“Because of everything that’s happened, the public needs to know I’m in this for the long haul,” Christie said. “It would be wrong to leave now. We have a job to do and that job won’t be done by next year.”
Christie’s move will set off “a very competitive race” in a largely Democratic state, according to Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville.
“These are trying times in New Jersey and people have rallied around a central leader,” Dworkin said yesterday. He said the trick for Christie will be to maintain the record approval ratings -- a task that eluded both New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and President George H.W. Bush following the first Gulf War in 1991.
In the Quinnipiac poll, 95 percent of 1,664 registered voters surveyed from Nov. 19-25 rated Christie good or excellent in responding to Sandy. Among Democrats asked about his job performance overall, 52 percent approved. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
Christie’s job-approval ratings surged to 77 percent after Sandy in a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind survey, from 56 percent before the storm. A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released Nov. 21 showed that 67 percent of registered voters held a favorable view of the governor after the storm.
“If Chris Christie goes back to an approval rating of, say, 54 percent, that’s still excellent, but it’s not nearly as intimidating as 70 percent,” Dworkin said.
After Sandy struck, Christie crisscrossed affected areas, giving updates on the recovery and embracing President Barack Obama, a Democrat, following a tour of the damage just days before the Nov. 6 presidential election, which Obama won. Christie was one of the most-vocal backers of Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
Physical damage and lost revenue in New Jersey was placed at $29.4 billion by Christie’s administration on Nov. 23. The state’s mass-transit network was devastated by floodwaters, while storm surges ripped up boardwalks and flattened some seaside communities. As Sandy approached, Christie ordered evacuations and shut down New Jersey Transit, the nation’s largest statewide commuter system.
In the aftermath, Christie pledged to work across party lines to seek federal assistance, while taking shots from within his own party for praising Obama’s offers of assistance.
“They’ll get over it by the time the next election comes around,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University polling center. “He certainly is in a strong position for re-election and if he ever wants to further his political career and run for president in 2016, it’s always better to do that as a two-termer.”
Murray said he would’ve been shocked given the surging poll numbers if Christie didn’t seek a second term. The question remains who among the state’s Democrats will challenge the Republican, Murray said.
Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey’s biggest city, has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the state’s highest office, though Murray said some “A-game” Democrats may shy from facing a popular incumbent. Others may see a challenge, even if futile, as a way to build goodwill within the party for a future statewide campaign, he said.
By ousting incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine in 2009, Christie became the first Republican to win statewide election in New Jersey since 1997. As the state’s U.S. Attorney from 2002 to December 2008, Christie took credit for securing convictions or guilty pleas from 130 corrupt politicians from both parties.
“I don’t think anyone in New Jersey is surprised” that Christie will seek a second term, said Alicia D’Alessandro, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party and chairman John Wisniewski. She declined to comment further.
“He’s a person who has a lot of talents and who has a lot of options in the public and private arenas,” said state Senator Joseph Kyrillos, a friend and Republican ally from Middletown who served as chairman of Christie’s 2009 campaign. “This is the most important job for Chris to fulfill.”
In Port Monmouth, Christie said Sandy created a job he hadn’t anticipated six weeks earlier. He said his goal was to leave New Jersey better than he found it and that he’s “more intent than ever” in seeking a tax cut to aid small businesses harmed by the storm.
In October 2011, Christie spurned requests from party and business leaders to compete for the presidential nomination. He is often mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential contender.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, chairman of the national Republican Governors Association, said Christie is a “results-oriented” executive who closed an $11 billion deficit without raising taxes, capped property levies and overhauled state pensions as well as public education in his state.
“Before Governor Christie took office, Trenton was broken and state government was in disarray,” Jindal said yesterday in a statement. “Governor Christie is well-positioned to secure a second term and continue the progress New Jersey has made since he took office.”