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Romney's potential running mate: Chris Christie

With unofficial Republican nominee Mitt Romney due to make his decision shortly, here's one in a series of Politics Now profiles of potential vice presidential running mates.

August 06, 2012|By Michael Finnegan
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose outspoken style has kept him in the vice presidential conversation.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose outspoken style has kept him in the… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has blazed his way to national prominence with a combative style well suited to the attack-dog duties of a running mate, but his volatile temper and limited knowledge of foreign affairs would carry some risk for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Christie’s top credential for the Republican ticket is the record of fiscal restraint that he has tried to build in two and a half years as governor. He has slowed the rise in property taxes, vetoed a “millionaire’s tax” and proposed a 10% cut in personal income taxes.

Christie’s battles against public employee unions have made him popular among Republicans across the nation. He has scaled back pension and health benefits for government workers.

PHOTOS: The search for Romney's running mate

For Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who has vowed to revive the U.S. economy by shrinking government, Christie’s fiscal record is a natural fit.

At the same time, Christie’s relatively short tenure as governor will no doubt raise questions about how prepared he is to assume the presidency, if needed. Also sure to draw fire from critics is his lack of experience in foreign policy, apart from terrorism cases on his watch as New Jersey’s U.S. attorney.

An opening for Democrats to cast doubt on Christie’s qualifications is a statement by the governor himself in an April 2011 interview with ABC News. Amid speculation that he might seek the GOP nomination, Christie stated bluntly: “I don't feel ready in my heart to be president.”

In 2008, many Americans believed that John McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin was not up to the job, a significant factor in depressing support for the Republican ticket.

Christie, 49, has spent most of his life in New Jersey. He and his wife, Mary Pat, have four children.

Raised in a suburb of Newark, Christie earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Delaware, then a law degree at Seton Hall Law School in Newark. From 1987 to 2001, he practiced law at Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci in Cranford, N.J.

Christie got his start in politics as a Morris County freeholder in 1994. He also worked as a lobbyist at the New Jersey statehouse. His clients included a Wall Street trade organization, the Securities Industry Association, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

In the 2000 presidential race, Christie raised money forGeorge W. Bush, who appointed him in 2002 as the U.S. attorney for New Jersey. Critics scoffed at Christie’s lack of experience in criminal law. But during his seven years as the state’s top federal prosecutor, Christie’s office won corruption convictions against a former Newark mayor and scores of other public officials, both Democrats and Republicans.

Christie returned to electoral politics in 2009 with a campaign to unseat New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Jon Corzine. A former Goldman Sachs chief executive, Corzine far outspent Christie, an avid Bruce Springsteen fan who campaigned as a champion of New Jersey’s middle class. Christie defeated the incumbent, 48% to 45%.

While Republicans laud Christie’s attitude, the governor’s brasher moments have spawned a series of YouTube videos that would delight opponents of the ticket. “Listen, pal,” he scolded a law student who interrupted him at one town hall meeting. After some angry back and forth, Christie told the student, “Let me tell you something: After you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in court, your rear-end’s going to get thrown in jail, idiot.”

A more recent video, broadcast on TMZ, shows Christie taunting a critic who approached him on a beach boardwalk as the governor was eating an ice cream cone. “You’re a real big-shot, shooting your mouth off,” Christie shouted as police escorted the man away.

At the statehouse in Trenton, Christie’s manner has led detractors to call him a bully. Supporters see him as a rare tell-it-like-it-is politician.

Last year, Christie took political heat for urging reporters to “take the bat out” on a 76-year-old lawmaker and grandmother. She had criticized him as too soft on political allies who hold two public jobs without disclosing that she, too, was on more than one government payroll.

In January, when Christie was preparing to veto a gay marriage bill and calling on proponents to put the issue before voters instead, the governor stirred up controversy again. “People would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South,” he said. An openly gay assemblyman compared Christie to segregationists. Christie responded by calling him “numb-nuts.”

Christie, a Catholic, could prove popular with conservatives who have been slow to warm to Romney, a Mormon. At an anti-abortion rally last year at the statehouse in Trenton, Christie urged protesters to “stand up and speak strongly in favor for the protection of every human life.”

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Michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Twitter: @finneganlatimes

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