As Republicans watch New Jersey governor Chris Christie in the coming year, there are three facets to keep in mind.
1) Christie’s surge in popularity following Hurricane Sandy has not faded and in fact seems to be accelerating; this week Quinnipiac found him at a 74 percent job-approval rating (!) and 68 percent say he deserves reelection. Christie takes 30 to 35 percent of the Democratic vote. He’s already dissuaded Newark mayor Cory Booker from a gubernatorial bid, and he’s probably going to match up against little-known state senator Barbara Buono.
While it’s only January, it’s conceivable that Christie will waltz into reelection having largely neutered the opposition party, on a scale not seen since Bobby Jindal faced no major Democrat opponent in Louisiana in 2011.
2) There is no indication that Republicans in New Jersey have any problem with Christie, despite his recent criticism of other Republicans, embrace of Obama, etc. Quinnipiac found Christie’s approval/disapproval split among New Jersey Republicans was 93 percent to 4 percent, and 70 percent of Garden State GOP voters approve of Christie’s criticism of the House GOP.
3) With the GOP vote locked in, and looking strong among independents and even Democrats, Christie has absolutely no incentive to do anything particularly controversial or conservative in this state in the coming year.
This will infuriate some Republicans outside New Jersey — but criticism from Republicans outside the state will only help him with Democrats and independents inside the state.
Now, the big question will be, if reelected, does Chris Christie use his second term to reestablish himself as a voice of fiscal sanity and limited government spending, making tougher decisions that his new fans might not like? Or does he do the full Charlie Crist/Arlen Specter?