WASHINGTON — New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie, running for re-election on a record of bipartisan accomplishment, visited the epicenter of political gridlock Wednesday, huddling with GOP senators at the U.S. Capitol.
Christie traveled to Washington just one day after he increased speculation about his national ambitions with a remark during a debate with his Democratic challenger.
“I can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Christie said when asked whether he might run for president while serving a second term as governor.
The stated purpose for Christie’s visit was to participate in events marking the end of the short tenure of Jeffrey Chiesa, the Republican he appointed in June to the Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Democrat Frank Lautenberg.
Chiesa “introduced me to some of the new friends he’s made over the last four and a half months,” Christie told reporters as he left the meeting.
Christie at first brushed off a question about the government shutdown, now in its second week. But seldom shy about voicing his opinions, the governor bit when asked whether he thought the shutdown, combined with the threat of a default if the debt ceiling was not raised, would hurt the economy.
“You know, I don’t think it’s ever good to keep the government closed when your job is to run the government,” he said.
Despite his state’s Democratic leanings, Christie is running well ahead of Democrat Barbara Buono with less than a month before New Jerseyans go to the polls. Christie has made a point of comparing the stalemate in Washington to his work with the Democratic legislature in his first term.
“Everything we’ve done has been a bipartisan accomplishment,” he said in a recent television ad.
“He’s got a great record in New Jersey,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who was part of the meeting with Christie. If he runs for president, “he’d be a very formidable candidate because he could point to a record of accomplishment.”
Thune said the meeting, though, covered mostly “New Jersey subjects,” including local politics. Christie told the senators that he thought next week’s special election for the Senate “could be close,” Thune said.
New Jersey voters will decide next week who gets to fill Lautenberg’s unexpired term. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the Democratic candidate, has been criticized for running a lackluster campaign as polls have shown a tightening between him and conservative activist Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of the town of Bogota, N.J.
Still, the four most recent polls in the state show Booker leading by 12 to 16 percentage points, and New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican U.S. senator since 1972.