ELIZABETH – As the media gnawed on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s rightward pointed cowboy boots on the same week he entered the race for the GOP Presidential nomination, Gov. Chris Christie pivoted even more deeply to the bipartisan center.
At his press conference today, the Republican governor and preferred presidential choice by a number of key members of his party, who continue to privately breast beat that he needs to get in the race, Christie repeatedly bold faced his working relationship with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and had kind words for President Barack Obama, objecting to what he cites as the president’s failure to use the bully pulpit of office more than policy.
Certainly, the Governor did not shun GOP buzzwords, referring at one point to Obamacare (and yes, he wants it unraveled, and he wants the president to take the lead in undoing what he did), but a day after the press gorged on Perry’s comment that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke would get an “ugly” reception in Texas and questioned Obama’s patriotism, Christie offered up a softened and oft-repeated critique.
“Let’s stop leading like a political strategist,” said Christie of Obama. “I sometimes think he’s in there being his own political strategist rather than being a leader.”
He added, “I like him personally,” and even said he agreed with him on some of the issues.
It was a perfect segue for Christie to gently ding Obama without the encumbrances of nooses or Texas tough guy talk while again highlighting his own ongoing working relationship with human political shield Cuomo.
“While the president is riding around in his bus, there is a spirit of bipartisanship (between himself and Cuomo on the toll roads plan and other issues),” the governor said.
“That’s what people expect from us,” he added. “They want us to work together.”
Embodying shades of Cuomo/Giuliani, the Republican governor riffed happily on the fact that he and Democrat Cuomo share a common heritage and had the benefit of being schooled by strong willed Sicilian mothers.
An ally of former President George W. Bush’s, Christie has not yet criticized Perry publicly, as others among Bush allies have in recent days, including former Bush advisor Karl Rove, who upbraided Perry for the Bernanke comment.
Trying to eke out his own GOP middle ground from western Pennsylvania in an attempt to be Tea Party and establishment palatable, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum similarly criticized Perry this week for the Fed remark.
A New Jersey Republican from the establishment shook his head in private disgust at the governor’s appearance in Elizabeth today.
“This is all about 2013,” said the source. “Suck up to Joe D in Essex.. Dawn Zimmer in Hoboken and Stack in Union City… but what about the suburbs? He’s following the Corzine model and if he’s not careful, will suffer the same fate.”
A political expert also chalked up the governor’s Elizabeth appearance to 2013. Prof. Brigid Harrison, political scientist with Montclair University, added that the diplomatic side of Christie indicates – just as he has repeatedly said – that he’s not running for president.
With an eye on polls that earlier this summer showed him floundering among independent voters, he’s in full-blown Jersey mode.
“In my view it has more to do with his favorability in this state right now,” said Harrison, to PolitickerNJ.com’s question about whether his soft side was a response to Perry and company.
“If you’re looking at the presidential nomination, you’re moving toward the right,” she added. “I’m not convinced a softer gentler Christie has anything to do with presidential aspirations it has to do more with polling numbers.”
But the middle ground version won’t last long, Harrison said.
“If we learned anything in the last 18 months the kinder gentler Christie is always temporary. It won’t take much to send him back on the warpath.”