WASHINGTON -- Chris Christie came to Washington on Thursday and -- a week after a poll showed his support in his state at its lowest level ever -- the governor used the occasion to focus on New Jersey. There wasn’t so much as a mention of national politics.
It’s a far cry from the State of the State he delivered a month earlier, in Trenton, where he barely mentioned his own state, talking about voters in Colorado and Kansas and Florida. That speech sounded more like a campaign stump than an update on the Garden State.
Speaking in Washington before a room full of business and political leaders from New Jersey, Christie sounded like he was giving one of his town hall speeches -- some of the usual punch lines included. He complained that when he delivers his budget address in two weeks, Democratic-controlled legislature is going to argue for more taxes. “If you’re not a millionaire but you want to feel like one, come to New Jersey... We’ll tax you like one,” Christie joked. “The question over the next year is going to be, how are we going to deal with that fact.”
But that wasn’t the question many in the room were asking -- including the crowd of national press and cable news networks covering the speech. The chatter in the hotel lobby bar before the speech was about what a Christie 2016 campaign is going to look like and whether he can win. He has struggled in recent weeks to build momentum after an ill-fated trip to London, a remark about vaccines that he had to walk back and questions about how he has run the governor's office.
Even as Christie was speaking, the New York Times and the Washington Post published stories citing unnamed sources saying that Christie is losing fundraising traction, including from backers who had supported his gubernatorial runs. Both stories reported that New York Jets owner Woody Johnson is supporting Jeb Bush. Both stories quoted former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean Sr. and said longtime Christie friend state Sen. Joe Kyrillos is on the fence. The simultaneous appearance of the stories had the markings of an opposition campaign trying to push a narrative.
Christie was always going to struggle to find room in a crowded field seeking fundraising dollars. And Bush was always going to pose a challenge for Christie, who got his start in national politics when he served as a fundraising bundler for his brother George W. Bush. As Mitt Romney learned while he tested another run, much of the national fundraising network the Bush family has developed was happy to support other candidates while there wasn’t a Bush on the ballot. But once Jeb started making fundraising calls, they hurried back into the Bush family fold.
Christie will be in D.C. for the weekend as well, attending the National Governor’s Association’s annual winter meeting. But he seemed eager to let everyone know that his attention was back home.
He concluded his speech by saying, “I always appreciate the short trip to Washington, D.C., and getting back to New Jersey as quickly as I possibly can.”