WASHINGTON -- If there was any doubt that Gov. Chris Christie is readying for a 2016 run, it was dispelled by his State of the State speech on Tuesday. The New Jersey governor, speaking in Trenton, used buzzwords like "American renewal." He talked about his travels around the country, name-checking Chicago and Maryland. He invoked “farmers in Kansas” and “teachers in Colorado,” “veterans in Maine” and “workers in Arkansas.” He even quoted a voter from that key presidential state, Florida. "What's happened to our country," Christie said the elderly Florida woman asked him as she clutched his hand.
The governor talked about his accomplishments in New Jersey, especially in education and jobs. But he didn't actually quote any voters from New Jersey.
Without explicitly saying so, he used developments in his state to make the case that he could lead the country. “I believe in a New Jersey renewal, which can help lead to an American renewal both in every individual home and in homes around the world,” he said.
"Right here, in this great state, we have the tools to get back on track."
Missing from his speech? There was not a single mention of Hurricane Sandy. He didn’t talk about helping the fledgling gambling industry in Atlantic City. No discussion about how he’s going to address the state’s troubled credit rating, which has been downgraded repeatedly during his tenure.
Christie has done little to hide his presidential ambitions. He toyed with a run for the White House in 2012, punctuated by a trip to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California where he spoke at length about American exceptionalism and the need to save the nation. But he ultimately stayed out, spending the next four years bolstering his national recognition.
He has succeeded. As head of the Republican Governors Association he traveled the nation talking to voters and raising money. His presence at a Dallas Cowboy’s football game earlier this month created a frenzy (and raised ethics questions). Behind the scenes, he is quietly building a campaign staff and courting donors.
Christie’s camp undoubtedly knew his State of the State address, which is supposed to be about his policy goals for the next year, would be parsed for clues about his plans and his positions. And he didn’t miss the opportunity to offer his take on national issues.
He talked about a national mood of “anxiety” and his ideas of how to address it.
“We need to renew the spirit and the hopes of our state, our country and our people," he said. "A renewal of our commitment to the hard-working families who are the backbone of our state. A renewal of our commitment to the simple belief that our people deserve better than a bloated national government that imposes costs on our states which suffocate our people.”
He took a swipe at President Barack Obama on foreign policy. “America’s leadership in the world is called into question because of a pattern of indecision and inconsistency,” Christie said. “During this time of uncertainty it seems our leaders in Washington would rather stoke division for their own political gain.”
He repeatedly expressed disdain for partisanship.
Even before Christie spoke, there was a sign that he was more concerned about the national audience than the local one: Christie held an off-the-record meeting with reporters ahead of the speech. The meeting was for national outlets only and omitted reporters from New Jersey publications.
.@GovChristie cut the NJ press out of an off the record briefing before his State of the STATE speech
— Matt Friedman (@MattFriedmanSL) January 13, 2015
Traditionally, Christie’s office has done interviews with local press in the lead-up to his speech to preview the big topics. But not this year.
When the speech was done, Christie didn't set out on the traditional state tour. Instead, he heads to South Carolina and Iowa -- two critical early primary states -- this week to attend the inaugurations of each respective state's governor.