WASHINGTON – Gov. Christie highlighted his pro-life views before a gathering of religious conservatives here Friday, calling Democrats the intolerant party on an issue that he rarely emphasizes in New Jersey.
But Christie also linked his pro-life views some familiar territory, saying that valuing life also means taking a less punitive approach to drug addiction and boosting education for all children.
“I believe if you’re pro life, as I am, you need to be pro life for the whole life,” Christie told around 400 conservative activists at a conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “You can’t just afford to be pro-life when the human being is in the womb.”
Christie’s speech came before the type of religious voters who make up a significant bloc in Republican presidential primaries, but also as many Republican leaders – including the governor himself – urges the GOP to expand its appeal in general elections. Christie, governing in a deep blue state, has often taken more moderate stands than some of his top potential rivals for the GOP presidential nomination.
The event's host, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, is led by Christian activist Ralph Reed and aims to elect “pro-family” lawmakers. The conference has drawn many of the top tier Republicans jockeying for the party's 2016 presidential nomination, including Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, Govs. Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry, as well as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
“I believe that every life is a gift from god that precious and must be protected,” Christie said Friday as he spoke about abortion. He has long been clear on his views, but typically only speaks about the issue when asked.
After opening by stressing his pro-life views, he pivoted to drug abuse, an issue he has often addressed, calling addiction a “disease” and saying the war on drugs “hasn’t worked.”
“What works is giving those people, non violent drug offenders, addicts, the ability to be able to get the tools they need,” to recover, Christie said.
He later tied a belief in life to ensuring high quality education for all children, again touching on some of his signature causes, such as charter schools and battling teachers’ unions.
“Their turf is not just their turf, it’s our turf too,” Christie said. “It’s the turf that our children learn and grow and develop in … Every child has the right to reach his or her full potential.”
Christie concluded his roughly 21 minute speech by hammering President Obama on foreign policy, blaming international unrest on a failure to speak “clearly, profoundly” and “inspirationally.”
Later Friday Christie was due at another event laden with presidential implications: fund-raisers and campaigning in New Hampshire with Granite State gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein. Christie is visiting as part of his job as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, though any national figure’s visit to New Hampshire comes with whiffs of presidential aspirations. The state hosts the second presidential primary and is considered critical to any hopeful’s chances.
Christie skipped the Faith and Freedom conference last year, choosing instead to attend a symposium in Chicago sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative, the group led by former President Clinton.
Santorum, in a morning speaking slot, called for Republicans to focus more on average workers and less on business workers and corporations.
“If you listen to the message that we’ve been delivering, it’s all about the business owner, it’s all about the corporation, it’s a lot about Wall Street and it’s not about average working Americans,” Santorum said. “We’re not going to win very many elections if people don’t think we care about them.”
He later added that Republicans should embrace the idea that “it’s OK for people to work from nine to five” and be able to raise a family on their wages. “It’s a good thing for us to be on the side of the worker.”
Paul spoke about ending U.S. entanglements in foreign conflicts, which he said has led to arming Islamic militants who kill Christians and Jews, and about the importance of opposing abortion, which he called “war against the unborn.”
“It must end,” Paul said.