Sen. Joe Kyrillos, the veteran New Jersey Republican lawmaker whose friendship with Gov. Chris Christie goes back 20 years, officially launched his campaign for the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination on Wednesday.

Kyrillos (KIR'-ill-ohs) held kickoff events Wednesday in Monmouth County _ which he represents _ and in Burlington County. On his home turf in Lincroft, Kyrillos wasted no time blaming his potential opponent, incumbent Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez, and President Obama for dysfunction in Washington.

"America faces tough and uncertain times. Our families face challenging times. Our spirit _ America's spirit _ is being tested," Kyrillos said. "But Washington is failing us. It doesn't measure up to the great people of this country."

Kyrillos criticized Menendez directly for inflated spending and ballooning federal debt, and said the Hoboken lawmaker ran for his first full term six years ago on a platform of job creation.

"Our unemployment rate then was 4.7 percent. Today, the unemployment rate is 8.5 percent. His answer to this problem: More of the same _ more spending, more debt, more job-killing regulation," Kyrillos said in a fiery 20-minute speech. "New Jersey taxpayers _ our children, our grandchildren, our families _ cannot afford six more years of Bob Menendez and `more of the same.'"

The 51-year-old legislator said he would seek a balanced budget amendment and vote to repeal "Obama-care" if elected to the Senate. His announcement before a packed house of 250 GOP who's who included Christie's dad, Bill, seated in the front row next to Kyrillos' parents. Kyrillos chaired Christie's successful gubernatorial campaign, which was considered an upset in Democratic-leaning New Jersey in 2009. A year earlier, he was state chairman of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Kyrillos would face an uphill battle against Menendez, the better-known and well-financed incumbent, in a year with Obama at the top of the ticket.

Menendez has nearly $7 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30, the end of the most recent federal reporting period. Kyrillos was undeclared at the time.

Recent polling data shows a 12 percentage point gap between Menendez and his closest challenger

Kyrillos first must survive a GOP primary, as conservative Ian Linker also plans to seek the Republican nomination.

The Menendez campaign said the senator is proud to run on his record of job protection and creation, restoring financial security for the middle-class and taking on credit card companies that rip off consumers.

"If 20-year Trenton insider and former State Republican Party Chair Joe Kyrillos should win the Republican primary, the contrast is stark," Menendez campaign consultant Brad Lawrence said. "Sen. Kyrillos voted against making taxes fairer for the middle class and supported unfair tax cuts for millionaires. Sen. Kyrillos has cozied up to the extremists who oppose investing in stem-cell research, would deny a woman's right to choose and resist common sense gun-safety laws."