Republican Christie to launch 2016 bid with promise of straight talk

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will formally launch his 2016 presidential bid on Tuesday, hoping to rejuvenate his sagging poll numbers with a dose of personality and a vow to be the blunt-talking Republican who tells it like it is.

The launch will give Christie, once seen as a top 2016 contender but now viewed as a long shot, a chance to reframe his battered image and reset the plummeting expectations for his campaign.

The 52-year-old Christie will make his announcement among family, friends and supporters at his old high school in Livingston, New Jersey, where he was class president. He will then head out on the campaign trail to New Hampshire.

In a video posted online this weekend, he talked about his family against a montage of shots from the town hall sessions that have earned him his reputation for plain talk. To supporters, he is honest and blunt. Detractors see him as a bully.

In Christie’s video, white letters against a black background read simply: “Telling it like it is.”

Christie will be the 14th Republican to enter the race for the nomination ahead of the November 2016 election, and he will face a difficult challenge regaining his former status near the top of the heap.

With his image badly damaged by the “Bridgegate” lane closure scandal, he has seen his standing in national polls in the Republican race dip to the low single digits.

Conservatives have been suspicious of his record of working at times with Democrats in Democratic-leaning New Jersey, and still resent his hug and warm words for President Barack Obama after superstorm Sandy in the final days of the 2012 presidential race.

But Christie has won praise for his ability to connect with voters in person, and he recently won a victory in a fight with unions over the state’s pension system.

He has cultivated his in-your-face image, once telling a heckler to “sit down and shut up” and getting into frequent shouting matches with New Jersey residents who challenge him.

He is expected to concentrate his campaign on the early voting state of New Hampshire, which has a long tradition of the town hall sessions that have been a staple of Christie’s tenure in New Jersey.

Christie’s approval ratings began to fall during the controversy over lane closings ordered by his aides in September 2013 for the approach to the George Washington Bridge connecting New Jersey and New York City. Some critics said they were political retribution against a New Jersey mayor who refused to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign.

He has disavowed knowledge of the closures.

A former ally of the governor pleaded guilty to federal charges in the scandal, and two others were indicted.

Reporting by Luciana Lopez and Hilary Russ; Editing by Cynthia Osterman