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Christie Runs New Jersey By Remote Control While Seeking New Job

By Terrence Dopp, Bloomberg News (TNS)

TRENTON, N.J. — He’s the chief executive officer of an operation with $33 billion in annual revenue that’s responsible for the health, wealth and safety of 8.9 million people. In the past six weeks, he’s been out of the office about two-thirds of the time, trying to secure his next job.

And yet Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor, says he’s got it all under control. Thanks to technology like smartphones and Skype, he says he’s able to remain in touch at all times with his staff back home.

“I can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he likes to say.

Since Christie entered the presidential race on June 30, the two-term Republican has spent 26 of 43 days out of state, according to a review of schedules and dates on which control was transferred to the lieutenant governor. His absence has fueled criticism from Democrats who say he should resign. In a recent poll, a majority of New Jersey voters agreed.

Last year, when Christie spent 100 days campaigning for other candidates across the U.S. as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he said he remained in constant contact with his chief of staff and counsel by telephone and e-mail.

Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie’s administration, declined to say who is briefing the governor and how often, citing executive privilege.

Christie, 52, is in regular contact with Chief Counsel Thomas Scrivo, said one person with knowledge of the governor’s moves. He also can draw on a “reliable network” of home-state advisers, including Chief of Staff Regina Egea, said the person, who asked not to be identified without authorization to speak for the administration.

The governor also has called Cabinet members directly while traveling, said another person with knowledge of the process who wasn’t authorized to speak for the administration.

Murray declined to make administration officials available for interviews about Christie’s on-the-road communications.

Christie isn’t alone in pulling double-duty as candidate and governor. Four of the 17 Republicans seeking the party’s nomination are sitting governors: Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal; Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Ohio’s John Kasich.

New Jersey pays the cost of its governor’s security detail, which Christie’s administration has fought in court to keep secret, saying disclosure could put him at risk. Louisiana also foots the bill. Lt. Gov., Jay Dardenne, who is running for governor, has called on Jindal to repay taxpayers for more than $2 million spent on his police protection.

“Governor Jindal is the Chief Executive of Louisiana at all times,” Mike Reed, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said in an e-mail. “An increased travel schedule won’t have an impact on day-to-day operations, since technology allows staff to stay in touch with the governor even when he is not sitting in his office in Baton Rouge.”

Walker’s campaign is paying for the costs associated with state patrol officers who travel with the governor for security, said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman.

In Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch said in a July 18 article that it appears the state is paying for Kasich’s security- related costs because, in response to a public-records request, officials said they had no documents showing billings sent to or payments made by his campaign committee.

“For the safety of the governor, his family and those with him, we simply never discuss security procedures or resources,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said in an e-mail statement.

In New Jersey, residents are growing disillusioned with Christie as they cope with lagging job growth, a broke roadwork fund and increasing delays on an aging mass-transit system.

Thirty-six percent of New Jersey residents approved of Christie’s job performance in a Monmouth University poll released July 2. Seventy-one percent think he can’t run for president and govern the state effectively at the same time, while 82 percent said his campaign should pay for his security detail when he’s out of state.

Democratic state senators Ray Lesniak, who plans to run for governor in 2017, and Loretta Weinberg introduced legislation on Aug. 10 that would require governors who run for president to resign. The bill has little chance of becoming law, as it would need Christie’s signature.

“The bill prevents this State from having to endure a governor whose frequent absences from the state in pursuit of higher office makes the governor inattentive to state issues,” according to the measure.

Murray, the governor’s spokesman, called the bill “silly nonsense.”

“The governor has been clear that he is never disconnected from doing his job as governor,” he said in an e-mail.

Lesniak said he’s concerned that Christie is making decisions to help his campaign, not for the good of New Jersey. As an example, he cited the administration’s pollution settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp., an RGA donor, for a fraction of the original damage estimate.

“He’s absolutely and totally checked out, and that’s why he should get out,” Lesniak said.

Peter Cammarano, who was chief of staff to Democrat Richard Codey during his 14 months as governor, said the issue of travel arose when Codey took a week-long vacation to Italy.

With a six-hour time difference, Cammarano said he and Codey would speak at least once a day. If needed, they could remain in constant contact.

“It was really the same as if he was in North Jersey and I was in the statehouse in Trenton,” Cammarano said. “With technology, you’re always governor.”

(John McCormick in Chicago and Mark Niquette in Columbus contributed.)

(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

Christie Returns To Town Halls As Polls Show U.S. Appeal Sagging

By Terrence Dopp, Bloomberg News (TNS)

TRENTON, N.J. — For Chris Christie, all roads to the White House run through New Jersey.

The governor, trailing Jeb Bush and Scott Walker in polls measuring the popularity of potential Republican presidential candidates, has resumed home-state appearances as he seeks to score political victories. Since February, he’s held weekly town-hall meetings, where he’s assailed public-worker benefits and defended his staff’s settlement of an $8.9 billion pollution lawsuit with Exxon Mobil Corp. for $225 million.

The unscripted gatherings may represent Christie’s best chance of righting a campaign that’s stumbled even before it’s begun. The meetings allow him to interact with voters, pitch his agenda and grab news coverage through the format that helped build his national profile as a tough-talking Jersey guy. The most-viewed video on his YouTube page shows him sparring with a teacher over school-aid cuts during a 2010 town hall.

“It’s necessary for him, but I don’t know that it will be sufficient,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican media consultant who worked on Rudy Giuliani’s failed 2008 campaign. “There are already doubts about what the purpose is of Chris Christie being in this race.”

A March 18 CNN poll showed Christie, 52, tied with Sen. Marco Rubio for sixth place among the likely Republican contenders, with 7 percent. That put him behind surgeon Ben Carson and ahead of Sen. Ted Cruz, who on Monday became the first to formally announce his candidacy.

Bush, the former Florida governor, was the leader with 16 percent, followed by Walker, the Wisconsin governor, at 13 percent. The poll’s error margin was 4.5 percentage points.

Christie, during his monthly “Ask the Governor” call-in radio show on Monday, said Cruz’s announcement won’t force him to accelerate his own timetable. The governor, who formed a political action committee in January to boost his visibility, said he intends to announce a decision in late spring or summer.

Tuesday marked the 132nd town-hall meeting since Christie took office in January 2010, and the fifth in as many weeks. It was held at a community center in solidly Republican Morris County during the middle of the workday near Christie’s hometown of Mendham. He answered questions about local issues with his usual blunt style and responded to queries about broader topics with rhetoric geared toward the national Republican base.

“No rights are given to you by government,” Christie said. “All rights are given by God.”

During the forum, Christie told the crowd he’s focused on his current job. Being limited to two terms gives him more freedom to rein in pensions and other entitlements without fear of voter backlash, he said.

The recent gatherings have been free of the confrontations with public workers that made Christie popular on YouTube.

Four years ago, Christie rejected calls to run for president from Republican leaders and executives including Home Depot Inc. co-founder Ken Langone, saying he wasn’t ready. After Hurricane Sandy leveled much of New Jersey’s coastline in October 2012, his response garnered him record approval and helped him win a second term in November 2013.

Those ratings have dropped to lows amid some residents’ complaints about the pace of rebuilding, concerns about New Jersey taxes and a recovery lagging behind neighboring states, and controversy over politically motivated lane closings at the George Washington Bridge.

In a March 3 poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, a record 51 percent of registered New Jersey voters disapproved of Christie’s performance.

Krista Jenkins, the poll director, said Christie “isn’t as much retreated as he is digging in” by attempting to steer the focus back to his current job. She said any success he has raising his numbers at home will benefit him elsewhere.

“He has to govern — even though clearly his aspirations are more national — but he’s going to be called to task if he abandons the state,” Jenkins said. “This is pretty natural, and it’s really a dance that he’s going to have to do until this thing really plays out.”

Christie’s February was marred by reports of donors lining up behind Bush, New Jersey allies facing fresh scandals and backlash over comments he made about vaccinations. He ended the month by proposing long-awaited fixes for New Jersey’s underfunded pension system and holding his first town hall in six months.

While many have written Christie off due to his low ratings, the bridge scandal and his lack of high-profile donors, Jenkins said “one good night in a debate can turn a campaign around.”

To be sure, Christie has won some recent victories in Trenton.

Democrats failed to gather enough votes to override the governor’s veto of legislation overhauling the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He also persuaded Republican senators to vote against a Democratic-sponsored resolution condemning his $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobil over pollution at refineries in Bayonne and Linden. The settlement resolved a case dating to 2004.

Wilson, the Florida Republican, said he doesn’t expect Christie to be a contender for the White House. Christie’s campaign has been “over for a while” and the governor hasn’t recognized it, he said.

Christie’s break from conservative Republicans began with his embrace of President Barack Obama after Sandy and he has continued to alienate them, Wilson said.

“It’s hard to reboot in politics without an awful lot of money in your pocket, and he doesn’t have that right now,” he said. “He strides like a colossus in New Jersey, but when you go up against guys with a natural fluency in addressing Republicans and conservative voters, it’s hard for him to stand out.”

(c)2015 Bloomberg News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Christie Said To Form Presidential Political Action Committee

By Terrence Dopp, Bloomberg News (TNS)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie formed a political action committee, a step toward entering the 2016 race for president, according to a person familiar with the move.

Christie, a second-term Republican, filed paperwork on Jan. 23 with the Federal Election Commission establishing the Leadership Matters For America PAC, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to disclose the information. The PAC also established a website, where it lists Christie as its honorary chairman.

The step allows Christie, 52, to begin raising money for a potential run. A fundraising strategy is being worked out and will start taking shape as soon as this week, the person said. The governor, who has said he was considering higher office, has been under pressure to announce his intentions since former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made moves this month toward entering the race.

“America has been a nation that has always controlled events and yet today events control us,” the PAC said in a mission statement on its website. “Why? Because leadership matters.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr