WASHINGTON (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday declared his opposition to abortion, telling religious conservatives that "every life is a gift from God that's precious and must be protected."
In his first major address to social conservatives, the potential candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2016 said those who oppose abortion must also protect human lives after birth. As an example he cited his support for drug addiction programs.
"I believe if you're pro-life, as I am, you need to be pro-life for the whole life," Christie said at a conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group led by Christian activist Ralph Reed. "You can't just afford to be pro-life when the human being is in the womb."
Christie's comments came in the midst of what amounts to a cross-country revival tour following a home-state political scandal involving a bridge and traffic congestion. His return to the national stage has featured policy speeches, late-night television appearances and campaign stops in key states on the presidential primary calendar.
Later Friday, Christie visited New Hampshire for the first time since the George Washington bridge scandal came to light and threatened to sink his 2016 hopes. The governor's aides ordered lanes to the busy bridge closed as a way of causing traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey, apparently in an act of political retribution against the town's mayor.
Officially, Christie, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was in New Hampshire to support gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein. But the appearance also may represent the most tangible evidence yet of Christie's growing interest in the presidency.
Asked if he was warming up for the presidential primary season. Christie feigned shock. "Absolutely not. How dare you," he joked. "As I've said, everybody who is looking forward to 2016 now is being foolish."
Still, Christie made a good show of the kind of retail politics that voters in New Hampshire insist upon, shaking hands and posing for pictures with a friendly crowd at T-Bones in Manchester.
Christie and his advisers believe the worst of his political troubles are behind him, in part because no evidence has come out that he was personally involved in the bridge closure that led him to fire his top political adviser and deputy chief of staff.
While Christie wasn't bringing up the bridge scandal, Democrats were eager to. The Democratic state chairmen from New Jersey and New Hampshire also noted that his state's economy has remained stagnant in his four-plus years in office.
"Our failed governor is really the leader that Walt Havenstein should not emulate," said New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman John Currie. "He must be in some pretty serious trouble. I certainly wish upon the people of New Hampshire much better."
Reed, like others at the conference in Washington, noted that Christie has yet to win over many religious conservative voters who still hold great sway in the presidential primaries.
Christie vetoed a bill that would have allowed gay marriage in New Jersey, but angered some conservatives this year by declining to appeal a court ruling that legalized it.
"We agree on some things and we disagree on some things," Reed said. "But he's the first pro-life governor in New Jersey since Roe v. Wade."
Another conference participant was less complimentary. Steve Scheffler, who serves as Iowa's Republican national committeeman, said he had questions about Christie's conservative credentials.
"I don't think we're going to win with somebody in the fall who is essentially a Democrat-lite," he said when asked about the New Jersey governor.
Christie said he's not worried about his critics.
"I'm accused of lots of different things. And I'm called lots of different names. But indirect has never been one of them," he said. "Leadership is about telling people who you are and what you stand for, and then speaking it directly, loudly and understandably so that not only your supporters know who you are, but the people against you know who you are, too, and have respect for where you stand."
Associated Press writer Rik Stevens in Manchester, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.