Christie Heads to the Heartland in Effort to Define ImageTerrence Dopp
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie courted Republicans in suburban Chicago by attacking President Barack Obama as he tries to define himself to an audience beyond his home state.
Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, on Thursday called for a tax overhaul and faulted Obama’s leadership in battling Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria.
Christie, 52, is appearing at political events around the country as he decides whether to enter the presidential race. He’s seeking to move past headlines that have captured national attention about state and federal investigations into his aides and allies ordering access lanes closed at the George Washington Bridge as political retribution.
The Republican has been using appearances in places such as Illinois and Iowa to portray himself as willing to make tough calls and be truthful with constituents.
“What this country needs today is a full dose of truth telling,” in a way that’s a conversation, not a lecture, Christie told about 1,000 Republicans at a country club in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. “If you do that, the American people will follow.”
Christie sought to contrast his own leadership style with the president’s.
Obama is “like a man in a dark room feeling along a wall and struggling to find the light switch of leadership,” Christie said. “He hasn’t found it in six years and unfortunately for America, he’s not going to find it in the next two either.”
During his 30-minute speech, Christie called for a tax overhaul without specifying what changes he would seek. He said Obama is trying to ban corporate inversions, in which U.S. companies shift their addresses overseas to tax-friendly locations, rather than deal with the underlying issues causing businesses to pursue that approach.
Voters said they came to hear Christie’s speech because they didn’t know much about the governor. Char Foss-Eggeman, a Republican committeeman from Park Ridge, Illinois, said she wanted to learn about his record.
“The field is so big right now that it will take a while to shake out,” she said. “We all need more details about where the governors who have made noise about running stand.”
Other potential Republican candidates include former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
Christie recently returned from a trade mission to London that was overshadowed by comments he made about childhood vaccinations. He said parents need “some measure of choice” on immunizations, drawing condemnation back home. His remarks contrasted with those from Obama, who urged vaccinations amid a measles outbreak.
Matthew Hale, who teaches political science at Seton Hall University, said Christie is seeking to undo political damage caused by the trip.
“He’s in full recovery mode trying to show the world he’s a calm, cool and viable presidential candidate after a week of complete chaos, disruption and disaster,” Hale said. “It’s just part of presidential politics -- sometimes you ride high and then you get snapped down.”
Christie received a standing ovation prior to his speech, which he began by highlighting his time as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He called the party’s gains of two statehouses last year “the real Republican miracle.”
Daniel Staackmann, a former mayor of Morton Grove, Illinois, said he wanted to get a better sense of Christie.
“Is this type of thing important? Absolutely,” he said. “Am I going to think about Chris Christie because he was here and because I saw him? Of course.”