New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a polarizing figure who will need to address many doubts in voters' minds both in his state and across the country if he expects to take the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, political experts agree.
"Christie tends to stand out because he attracts extreme opinions," Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray told The Asbury Park Press
in Christie's home state. "You either love him or hate him."
A Monmouth poll last month
put the list of potential GOP contenders in a very tight race, with Christie ranking near the top with potential contenders like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Florida ex-Gov. Jeb Bush, and Dr. Ben Carson. However, Romney led with eight percent, while Christie was a point behind, coming in at seven percent with Carson, a political newcomer.
Conservative Tea Party supporters in the poll rejected Christie altogether, picking Carson, Romney and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as their top GOP choices.
Christie's problem with such conservatives is that they don't see him as being conservative enough, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
"It's not that they hate him, it's just that in the Republican primaries, they have better choices," Sabato said. "They have candidates who check all of the boxes."
Christie's personality might also work against him, some of his own constituents think.
"I'd be very interested to see what voters in Florida or South Carolina or Wisconsin would think of our governor," said Eric Seldner of Eatontown, N.J., who said he did not vote for the governor. "He's a stereotype of New Jersey, with a very brash attitude."
But others think that Christie's personality is what the nation wants.
"It takes a strong personality to become governor and to get things done," GOP State Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon told The Press."There's no question that Gov. Christie is a very forceful, in-your-face person and I find that to be refreshing. Gov. Christie doesn't hesitate. He doesn't care who he pisses off as long as he's telling what he believes to be the truth."
Bush's announcement about exploring the possibility of a presidential run is also casting some doubts about Christie.
"The thing that Jeb Bush seems to have going for him that Chris Christie doesn't is that he's winning the 'invisible primary,'" Murray said. "That's the primary that takes place among Republican donors and the party leadership down in Washington."
But other lingering issues could come back to haunt Christie, including the doubts left after the George Washington Bridge scandal, after two of his former aides ordered lane closures in revenge for the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for not backing the governor's re-election campaign.
Christie has been cleared of being involved in the incident, and so far, there have not been signs that the scandal has changed the minds of potential Republican voters, but that may change "overnight," said Murray.
"An indictment could change this overnight, but right now people see this as a political witch hunt launched by the Democrats," Murray said.
But ultimately, Christie's outspoken personality may sell him as a candidate "in a big way," O'Scanlon told The Press. "I will not deny at all that Gov. Christie is aggressive and bold, but I think those will be assets for him going forward."
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