Christie's in: Can he stay afloat?

Gov. Chris Christie addresses supporters in the Livingston High School gym, where he announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination for president in 2016. (CLEM MURRAY/Staff Photographer)

NOW THAT JERSEY'S big boy has cannonballed into the presidential pool, the question is whether he sinks or swims.

There's a good argument for sinking.

He's in a (so far) 14-way Republican primary in which he polls in low single-digits.

His approval rating in his own state is 30 percent, after topping 70 percent just two years back, so he isn't exactly ascending.

He gave a dud 2012 convention speech more about himself than about nominee Mitt Romney.

He warmly embraced President Obama after Hurricane Sandy prior to the 2012 election; some Republicans actually believe that helped Obama win.

There's the George Washington Bridge thing.

And there's his bombastic "sit-down-and-shut-up" style, which plays well with some (in small doses) but turns many others off.

Yet in announcing his candidacy yesterday, two-term Gov. Chris Christie offered a few themes that sounded attractive.

"Both parties have failed our country," he said.

Amen.

He pledged a campaign of "big ideas" without spin, without pandering.

A welcome thing.

And he mentioned fixing government entitlements.

He didn't mention his proposal to raise the retirement age and means-test Social Security to give less to wealthy seniors and nothing to very wealthy seniors.

But this, say some insiders, can set Christie apart and play into his campaign slogan, "Telling it like it is."

Because Christie faces an uphill primary-election climb, he avoided it, speaking instead to the general election.

He hammered Obama for "weakness and indecisiveness" and said the president "lives in his own world" that should not be turned over to "second mate Hillary Clinton."

No mention of Jeb, The Donald, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, et al.

Yet any road to Hillary must go through them and others, and through Iowa and southern states, where a glib, trigger-tempered Northerner just doesn't play so well.

If Christie has, as they say, a path to nomination, it is narrow.

It requires wrecks on the road by top-tier and second-tier contenders, because right now Christie's neither.

It requires acing early debates, winning New Hampshire and hard-selling his political skills and toughness as beating (presumably) Clinton by carrying states such as Pennsylvania.

Christie yesterday said, "I mean what I say and I say what I mean, and that's what America needs right now."

But Christie's "right now" probably has passed.

In November 2013, Christie graced the cover of Time as "The Elephant in the Room."

Some said the mag was too cute by half and playing to fat jokes.

Others called it a clever reference to the GOP mascot (while playing to fat jokes).

The piece said Christie won re-election "with a campaign act designed to win the presidency in 2016."

Why not?

Earlier in 2013 he also was on Time's cover as "The Boss." It was after Sandy. He was called "the master of disaster" for strong leadership in difficult times.

He was touted for president in 2011 after a stirring speech at the Ronald Reagan Library, and Romney considered him for running mate in 2012.

So he's been up, but now he's down.

Is he running now for a better shot in 2020? Other GOP presidents – Nixon, Reagan, George H. W. Bush – ran and lost before they won.

Is he counting on America's fondness for political comeback kids?

A national GOP consultant to another campaign says that with so many candidates Christie can win a primary with a low percentage of votes.

"He can be a semi-sane Trump, have a moment in a debate and use the force of his personality to get into this thing," the consultant said.

Maybe. But Republicans tend to be predictable and safe (Read: Jeb).

Chris Christie is neither.


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