Christie looks beyond Trump gaze, gets back to business

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2016 2:12 AM
Christie looks beyond Trump gaze, gets back to business

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is putting a much-snickered-at Donald Trump campaign appearance and a few politically bruising days behind him as he gets back to work governing after bowing out of the Republican presidential race.

But with the state's two largest newspaper companies calling for him to resign — and with less than a third of New Jersey residents saying they still support him — it's unclear how successful he can be.

In a nearly two-hour statehouse news conference Thursday, Christie ribbed the "armchair psychiatrists" who mocked him over his gaze while standing behind Trump on Super Tuesday, rejected suggestions from newspapers to step down, and told his state's nearly 9 million residents, some of whom gave him a poor review in a recent poll, that he's getting back to work.

"I'm going to do my job," Christie said. "The people of New Jersey will see it and react to it, and I'll do better."

Christie, who ended his campaign last month, said he will continue helping Trump's campaign but doesn't have any more appearances scheduled. Defending his endorsement of Trump, Christie said he believes the billionaire businessman would make the best president out of the remaining candidates and has the best chance to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election.

The second-term governor, who said he plans to be in office through the end of his term in January 2018, is refocusing on New Jersey as the state's fund for road and bridge work teeters toward insolvency and New Jersey Transit's rail workers are threatening a March 13 strike that would drastically impact more than 100,000 daily commuters into New York.

The state's debt-laden public pension also has ballooning debt, and Christie faces an adversarial Democrat-led Legislature, with which there has been little agreement on the biggest issues facing the state.

Christie's approval ratings fell to record lows last year as he spent parts of 261 days out of the state on his campaign. While the trips were paid for by his campaign, state taxpayers are on the hook for thousands of dollars for his mandatory state police detail.

Since backing Trump, Christie's approval rating has dropped from 33 percent to 27 percent, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson poll that surveyed 694 New Jersey registered voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Nine New Jersey newspapers published by the state's two biggest newspaper companies called on him to resign this week, citing his support for Trump.

Christie said the newspapers haven't supported him in the past and they're merely trying to find a way to stay relevant as their readerships decline.

"The only way to do that is to set themselves on fire," Christie said.

A Star-Ledger columnist responded with a list of times the newspaper had backed initiatives supported by Christie, along with endorsing his 2013 re-election campaign.

Christie also faced criticism from some New Jersey Republicans, including former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman over the endorsement.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck told the Asbury Park Press that Christie couldn't continue to serve as governor if he was going to travel the country campaigning for Trump. On Thursday, Christie said he spoke with Beck about her concerns.

"I am pleased that Governor Christie reaffirmed his commitment to invest his time, energy and effort into the serious policy issues that New Jersey faces, and that his time will be spent here in our state" Beck said after the news conference.

Not all Republicans are distancing themselves from Christie, who won the backing of the state's GOP establishment for president.

"The governor can walk and chew gum at the same time," said Somerset County Republican Chairman Al Gaburo. "He can campaign for Mr. Trump or whomever the governor wants to campaign for."

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Associated Press writer Ben Finley, in Trenton, contributed to this story.