TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seldom makes a political miscalculation, as even his adversaries acknowledged after the incumbent Republican rolled to 60 percent of the vote to win re-election in a heavily Democratic state.
But when the likely 2016 presidential candidate maneuvered to dump Tom Kean Jr. as state Senate Republican leader two days later, he suffered a rare defeat — and alienated the lawmaker's father, Tom Kean Sr., a GOP elder statesman and popular former governor who gave Christie his political start.
"I'm as surprised as I've ever been in my life in politics," Kean, 78, told The Associated Press.
Christie has abruptly severed ties before — he fired his first education commissioner over mistakes on a federal grant application, for example. But, a week after Kean Jr. rallied enough Senate Republicans to easily rebuff the governor, Kean Sr. still seemed stung.
"I'm very disappointed," he said, noting that Christie hadn't phoned him or Kean Jr., and that he'd grown weary waiting for the call.
As Kean and Christie both tell it, Christie was a 14-year-old living in Livingston when his mother drove him to Kean's house and he knocked on the door.
"'Sir, I want to get involved in politics and I don't know how to do it,' " Kean said, recounting Christie's words in a 2010 interview. "I said, basically, 'I'm thinking of running for governor. If you want to find out, get in the car. I'm going up to Bergen County. Come with me and see if you like it."
Christie often refers to Kean as a mentor, and Kean has stayed involved in Christie's ascending career. He advised Christie in his first political race, put in a good word for him when George W. Bush was looking for U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, raised money for Christie's gubernatorial campaigns and spoke at his Nov. 5 re-election celebration.
Two days later, Kean said Christie made his move without having mentioned his intent to do so.
The question of Christie's loyalty has been raised before.
His Republican National Convention speech was panned as self-serving as the GOP was rallying behind Mitt Romney. His allegiance to Romney was doubted again when he embraced President Obama days before the 2012 presidential election. The hug, which came while Obama toured the Hurricane Sandy-battered Jersey shore, drew such fury that Christie was forced to do damage-control with calls to News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch and other influential Republicans.
Romney lost, giving a Republican like Christie an open shot at the party's nomination for president in 2016.
Christie's office wouldn't comment on the flap, but most believe that the governor was trying to accommodate Stephen Sweeney, the Democratic Senate president who has partnered with Christie on key legislative initiatives.
Sweeney wasn't shy about his desire to have Kean Jr. dethroned after the Republican helped fund Sweeney's unsuccessful re-election opponent. Sweeney and others also blamed Kean for the GOP's failure to make gains in the Senate despite Christie's dominant win at the top of the ticket.
Some Republican lawmakers who ordinarily march in lockstep with the governor found Sweeney's attempt to dictate who the Republican leader would be so unappetizing they supported Kean.
"It was a mistake," former Gov. Dick Codey, a Democrat who was acting governor for 14 months in 2004-05, said of Christie's involvement. "I didn't understand it. It didn't put him in a good light."