By Hilary Russ
(Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie continues to lose favor at home, with a poll on Monday showing his lowest approval rating as governor as he attempts to woo would-be voters in other U.S. states for a possible 2016 Republican presidential campaign.
New Jersey voters disapprove of the job Christie is doing by 56 percent to 38 percent, his lowest-ever approval rating, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
Voters gave him the lowest marks for his handling of the state budget, education, the economy and jobs. The results come just days after the state of New Jersey's credit rating was downgraded for a ninth time since Christie took office in January 2010.
Moody's Investors Service cut New Jersey to A2 with a negative outlook late on Thursday, citing "the lack of improvement in the state's weak financial position and large structural imbalance," stemming mostly from huge shortfalls in its public pension contributions.
New Jersey is the second-lowest-rated U.S. state, behind only Illinois.
The state government had shortchanged the public employees' retirement system long before Christie, and under bipartisan reforms in 2011, he began ramping up funding. But last year, he slashed the Garden State's pension contributions because of a large, unexpected drop in tax revenues.
Labor unions sued over the issue and won in state court, but the Christie administration has appealed. Arguments are set for May 6 in New Jersey Supreme Court, which could force the state to add back the $1.6 billion of payments Christie cut and put further pressure on a strained budget.
Meanwhile, the state's job growth since the recession has lagged its neighbors and the country as a whole, recovering only 63 percent of the jobs it lost.
That is compared to 133 percent job recovery for the United States and 244 percent in neighboring New York state, according to the think-tank New Jersey Policy Perspective.
The state's sluggish economic recovery would be fodder for opponents if Christie announces a run for the White House in a crowded Republican field.
Christie made a brief political circuit last week in New Hampshire, giving him a shot at recapturing the spotlight after being overshadowed by other presidential hopefuls like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.
Quinnipiac's poll of 1,428 voters was conducted by phone from April 9-14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York, editing by G Crosse)