It's official: New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who for seven years has stood in the shadow of the most famous governor in America, is running to succeed him.
Guadagno, 57, was elected the state's first lieutenant governor as Gov. Christie's running mate in 2009. She has filed paperwork to run in 2017, a spokesman for the state's election law regulator said Thursday.
Reached by phone Thursday, Guadagno referred questions to her media team, which did not respond to a request for comment.
A former federal prosecutor, Guadagno, a Republican, began her political ascent in 2007, when she was elected Monmouth County sheriff, the first woman to hold the post.
As lieutenant governor, Guadagno has been the administration's de facto liaison to the business community, helping oversee economic development and tourism. Whenever Christie has traveled out of state - either as chairman of the Republican Governors Association or during his presidential campaign - Guadagno has been acting governor.
Long a quiet voice in the Christie administration, Guadagno, who is also secretary of state, has taken steps recently to distinguish herself from the governor, whose job approval rating stands at 18 percent, according to a recent Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll.
In a high-profile break with Christie, Guadagno this year opposed a gas-tax hike to fund the state's roads and bridges, as well as a constitutional amendment to dedicate the revenues to transportation projects.
Christie signed the tax increase into law, and voters approved the ballot question.
She isn't the only candidate establishing contrasts with the governor.
Jack Ciattarelli, a GOP assemblyman from Somerset County, said this week that it was "not a time for a Chris Christie third term" or "for taking credit for an economy that continues to punish New Jersey."
Democratic candidates - including Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany; Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski of Middlesex County; and State Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak of Union County - are also hammering Christie.
For her part, Guadagno appeared ready to practice her stump speech in November in Atlantic City, where she was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at an annual luncheon.
But Christie swooped in at the last minute and seemed to use the occasion to take a swipe at Guadagno.
Describing negotiations with Democratic lawmakers over the gas tax and a series of tax cuts, Christie said, "It was time for real leaders to stop playing politics and make hard decisions."
Guadagno also broke with Christie on failed legislation that would have allowed the governor to cash in on a book deal and granted raises to officials across state government, including Guadagno's husband, Michael, who is a state judge.
On Twitter, she described the legislation as "ridiculous."
Guadagno's public schedule largely consists of Chamber of Commerce luncheons and groundbreaking events. But she says she also plays a role in decision-making on important issues such as Hurricane Sandy and the budget.
"All of those were made with me sitting with the governor at the table," she told the Inquirer in 2014.
Guadagno signaled more interest in a gubernatorial run in April, when she launched a nonprofit "think tank" called Building a Better New Jersey Together.
Solutions to the Garden State's problems "will not come from Trenton, but from us New Jerseyans who live in the real world," she said at the time.