Christie meets the press, woos the nation

Gov. Christie nationalized his victory on health and pension benefits on NBC's "Meet The Press" this morning, explaining how Barack Obama's Washington, DC, should model itself off Chris Christie's New Jersey.

Christie portrayed himself as an active leader directly involved in the negotiations of the historic legislation that was approved by the New Jersey Assembly last week and will be signed by Christie tomorrow. He said just as he sat with Democratic legislative leaders to hammer out an agreement on the bill -- which forces public workers to pay far more for health and pension benefits -- President Obama needs to deal directly with congressional leaders.

The pro-life, anti-gay marriage gov dodged a more specific question on whether he would sign a Republican abortion pledge, and another question on whether the federal government should ban states from allowing gay marriage. No follow-up questions on either from interviewer David Gregory. 

Gregory asked Christie if he was "too abrasive" (perhaps the most common question Christie receives by national TV interviewers). Although he's too strong of a personality to be vice president -- a president would "have to be sedated" to pick him -- he said he's an otherwise easygoing guy.

"I'm huggable and lovable, David. I'm not abrasive at all. You know what people are tired of in politics? They're tired of blow-dried, tested answers that are given by political consultants to politicians, and everybody sounds the same: erh-erh-erh. I don't sound the same." 

Christie said despite his style, he and the New Jersey Democrats "didn't demagogue each other" on the benefits bill, which allowed for compromise. Christie also said he was able to muscle the bill through because he sold the plan himself at dozens of town halls. Obama, he said, needs to do the same thing:

"If you're the executive, you've got to be the guy who's out there pushing and leading. You can't lay back and wait for somebody else to do it. And I think if the president has made a mistake here it's this laid-back kind of approach where he's waiting for someone else to solve the problem. Some people say it's a political strategy. No matter what it is it's not effective in solving problems. What we did in New Jersey proves that's the effective way to do it. The executive needs to lead and then bring people to the table to forge compromise."

Fellow Trenton bureau scribe Maya Rao and I dug into how Christie forged this compromise, and what Christie left out is that it also had a lot to do with the behind-the-scenes relationships of New Jersey's power brokers. Our story in today's paper:

TRENTON - When a Republican governor in Wisconsin sought to roll back collective-bargaining rights, Democratic legislators fled the state to try to block the bill.

But when a Republican governor in New Jersey pushed something similar, Democratic legislative leaders not only stuck around, but also took the handoff from the governor and barreled through a defensive line of dissenters within their party and thousands of union workers.

Gov. Christie pulled off this upset victory in the Democratic-majority Legislature last week in part because he had successfully cultivated key Democratic power brokers whose Trenton allies voted with Republicans to pass the bill.

"It comes down to, pure and simple, [Christie's] leadership skills and his ability to see people on the other side of the aisle not as enemies to be avoided, but as opportunities to be exploited," said consultant Jeff Michaels, who has advised Christie on policy and worked with South Jersey Democrats. "He looks to make common cause when he can."

Despite his pugilistic reputation, Christie began working the other side on the day after he won the governor's seat in 2009. He visited a Newark school founded by Steve Adubato, a longtime Democratic power broker.

Christie has since nurtured ties with Adubato's protégé, Essex County Executive Joseph "Joe D." DiVincenzo, and aligned with Camden County's George E. Norcross 3d on education policy.

The Norcross connection is all the more remarkable because in Christie's previous job as U.S. attorney, he reviewed a state investigation into allegations of political corruption by Norcross. He expressed disgust that he couldn't pursue the case further because the state had bungled the matter.

Read the rest of the story here.