New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie challenged his fellow Republicans to put forward more policy positions to solve the nation’s ills as he courted a constituency important to a potential presidential bid.
"We’ve got to start talking about what we're for and not what we're against," he said Thursday at the nation's highest-profile gathering of tea party activists. "Our ideas are better than their ideas, and that's what we have to stand up for."
Christie is among the potential Republican presidential candidates wooing the party's base at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md. The gathering is sponsored by the American Conservative Union, a Washington-based group that promotes smaller government.
A year ago, Christie was excluded from the event after he angered limited-government voters for being among the Republican governors who said they'd seek federal funds provided by the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid, which serves the poor.
In his speech, Christie hit several themes popular with the crowd, including a defense of the Koch brothers. The billionaire energy executives Charles and David Koch are supporters of the small-government tea party movement and have come under increasing attacks from Democrats.
"We need to talk about the fact that we are for a free-market society that allows your effort and ingenuity to determine your success, not the cold, hard hand of the government," he said.
As he stressed his opposition to abortion rights, Christie argued that Democrats are a less-welcoming party on that issue.
"They're the party of intolerance, not us," he said.
Christie also called for a stronger national defense.
"We need to make sure that we say we are for America being a leader in the world and we are for a strong national defense," he said.
And he urged greater party unity. "We don’t get to govern if we don't win," he said. "Let's come out of this conference resolved to win elections again."
The governor's remarks were well received. "I think he kind of electrified the crowd," said Mike Frank, of Alexandria, Va. "He says that he gets things done. We need people are doers."
Christie, 51, is seeking to change the conversation around him from one focused on the furor raised by politically motivated lane closures and traffic jams in September on the George Washington Bridge that were created by his administration. He made no mention of the controversy in his address.
He's traveling nationwide to raise millions as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, an assignment that, before the furor over the bridge lane closures erupted, his allies saw as helping him boost his national standing. Throughout his remarks, he pitched the nation's Republican governors as better problem-solvers than those in Washington.
© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.