* Christie has many critics among N.J. conservatives
* From subsidies to guns, Christie has liberal bent
* Could weight become a factor?
By Mark Egan, Edith Honan and Steve Holland
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Sept 30 Is tough-talking
Republican Chris Christie tough enough for the Tea Party?
Christie's potential entry into a 2012 White House race
dominated by conservatives would electrify the campaign but
trigger scrutiny of his record as a Republican governor in
heavily Democratic New Jersey.
Hailed by conservatives for staring down public employee
unions in New Jersey, he may face questions about whether his
beliefs on such hot-button issues as illegal immigration and
climate change match up with the conservative Tea Party
movement expected to play an important role in choosing the
"I think there is an interesting possibility that the more
people look at him, the more people will have concerns," said
Ryan Rhodes, chairman of the Tea Party in Iowa, a key early
"A lot of people see everybody as Superman until they get
in the race, and all of a sudden they are just Clark Kent,"
After ruling out a presidential run for months, Christie is
now said to be wavering under pressure from Republican donors
unhappy with the current field. The New York Post said he might
announce his candidacy as early as Monday.
A leap into the Republican field would require him to move
quickly to form a campaign organization to compete in early
voting states. The first nominating contest, the Iowa caucuses,
could take place in early January.
Christie's relatively liberal record on some issues might
hold him back from winning support from conservatives who have
so far backed Texas Governor Rick Perry and Minnesota
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
In 2008, as U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Christie said
that being in the United States without documentation was not a
crime, upsetting conservatives.
While running for governor, he told Fox News he supported
common-sense gun control laws. In August, he said that "climate
change is real" and "it's time to defer to the experts."
NOT IDEOLOGICAL CONSERVATIVE
"I think Chris Christie is a pragmatic politician. I don't
think he's an ideological conservative," said Steve Lonegan,
director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, who
lost to Christie in the state's Republican primary for
A rising star in the Republican Party since becoming
governor of the Northeast state in January 2010, Christie has a
fiscal record that will appeal to Republicans and independents
concerned about government spending and the $1.3 trillion U.S.
Christie made national headlines in 2010 when he closed an
$11 billion deficit on a $29 billion budget by slashing funding
across the board including for education and local aid, while
capping property tax hikes.
His decision to cancel an $8.7 billion commuter rail tunnel
project under the Hudson River, his tough stance against the
state teachers' union in demanding reforms and an overhaul of
the benefits system for state workers have all won him praise
from fiscal conservatives.
Gruff, funny and a charismatic public speaker, he also has
a reputation for getting things done even if he has to ruffle
feathers in the process.
Whether the appeal of his blunt manner would spread beyond
New Jersey is a question for him.
"We know Christie's confrontational. The question is
whether the New Jersey style plays nationally," said Merle
Black, a political science professor at Emory University in
COMPLAINTS AT HOME
Christie's strong popularity in New Jersey slumped this
spring as the state headed into a tough round of budget
negotiations, but it has rebounded. A Fairleigh Dickinson
University PublicMind poll this week said more than half of
voters in the state approved of Christie's performance.
Conservative New Jersey Republicans have many complaints
about him. They point to his decision to subsidize two
development projects -- the Xanadu leisure complex and an
Atlantic City casino -- as examples of the state propping up
projects in defiance of free market principles.
Critics also point to his liberal appointments, in
particular of Paula Dow as state attorney general. Dow declined
to join other states in a lawsuit challenging President Barack
Obama's healthcare overhaul, which conservatives want to
Christie was dealt an embarrassing blow last year when the
state lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal
education grants after his education commissioner bungled a
question during an interview with U.S. officials.
The commissioner was quickly fired.
Lonegan and other conservatives say Christie has not pushed
through tax reform in the state, which has among the highest
tax rates in the country.
Despite such issues, Christie is capable of emerging as a
strong competitor in a Republican field seen as weak.
"Christie's challenge is to raise the money, build a strong
leadership team in the five early states, and carry a
conservative message to the country," said Republican
strategist Scott Reed. "He has the ability to do all three."
His weight may also be a factor, especially were he to win
the nomination, setting up televised debates juxtaposing an
estimated 300-pound (136-kg) man against Obama, a slender man
who plays basketball to maintain his fitness.
In late July, Christie was hospitalized after an asthma
attack so bad he had trouble breathing after taking his
inhaler. Leaving the hospital, Christie said: "If I weighed
less I'd be healthier. I've been taking it seriously. It's one
of the major struggles of my life. I'm working on it."