It may not have been much of a surprise, but Burlington County’s Republican and Democratic officials had plenty to say about Gov. Chris Christie’s long-awaited decision to enter the 2016 presidential field.
The Republican governor kicked off his campaign Tuesday during a rally in the gym of his high school alma mater in North Jersey, telling a nationwide audience that he would speak the hard truths about the problems America faces.
“I’m not running for president of the United States as a surrogate for being elected prom king of America,” he said. “When I stand on a stage like this in front of all of you, there is one thing you will know for sure — I mean what I say, and say what I mean.”
State Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, R-8th of Evesham, a longtime Christie supporter, said the governor’s willingness to be blunt and straightforward sets him apart.
“He had that straight-talk approach, and I think the American people are ready for that,” said Addiego, who attended the kickoff. “People want someone who will tell them like it is. He does that. What you see is what you get with him. ... He’s visible and very outspoken, and you don’t have to guess about where he stands on any issue.”
Burlington County Republican Chairman Bill Layton said he realized Christie had the ability to become president about halfway into his first term as governor.
“It became very clear that he’s a different kind of politician, and that someone like him would make a lot of sense down there in Washington,” Layton said.
Assemblyman Chris J. Brown, R-8th of Evesham, said Christie is exactly what Americans want from a leader.
“They’re looking for strong leadership, decisiveness, and someone who is willing to protect the nation from its enemies,” Brown said. “The governor fits that. He’s a straight talker, and we know he does not waffle.”
Layton, Addiego and Brown dismissed national opinion polls showing well-known GOP candidates ahead of Christie, saying that it was early in the race and that the governor has demonstrated the ability to distinguish himself.
“There’s a lot of candidates in this race, and someone with his charisma and record can become a very viable candidate very quickly,” Layton said. “I definitely think he’ll connect with voters. Once he’s onstage with the other candidates, I think people will easily see he’s the one to defeat Hillary Clinton, and it will be obvious he should be the nominee.”
“I don’t put a lot of stock in polls, and neither does this governor,” Brown said. “I think people like to listen to him, and once he starts getting his message out in places like New Hampshire, I think he will quickly move up.”
“He’s a great speaker, and I think he’ll be able to distinguish himself because of that,” Addiego said, citing his experience in holding town hall meetings across New Jersey.
“How many governors have held as many town halls as he has? He’s probably had more town halls than all the governors in the last 25 years,” she said.
Former U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton, of Mount Holly, also said he expected Christie to do well in the national race.
“I know some people don’t always appreciate the way he comes across, but he’s certainly been a successful governor. And it wouldn’t surprise me if he does very well,” Saxton said.
Burlington County Democrats were quick to write off Christie’s chances.
“I applaud the governor for putting himself forward for inspection as a presidential candidate on the national stage,” said Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra. “That said, his stewardship of New Jersey, including the most credit downgrades in state history, exacerbating our pension deficit, and neglecting our crumbling transportation infrastructure, will likely make this a short audition.”
Burlington County Freeholder Joanne Schwartz said she was looking forward to watching Democrat Hillary Clinton’s inauguration. She said she doesn’t consider Christie a threat.
“Not at all. And the polls don’t show him doing very well at all. So I’m not alone,” Schwartz said.
Addiego countered that it would be good for New Jersey to have Christie in the Oval Office: “It’s exciting, and I think New Jersey will benefit greatly having one of our own in the White House.”