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World & Nation

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sends mixed message in California

With speculation swirling anew about whether he intends to join the field of Republican presidential candidates, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie referred a crowd in California on Tuesday to his previous comments on the matter, strung together in a Web video.

The video, on the Politico website, represented his “answers back to back to back together on the question of running for the presidency,” he told hundreds of Republicans gathered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley — several of whom asked him to run.

Among the responses on the video: “I’m 100% certain I’m not going to run,” “I don’t want to run” and “I don’t feel ready in my heart to be president.”

Despite the demurrals, the latest surge of Christie-mania — particularly among some party donors anxious for new options — has only raised Christie’s national profile and enhanced his draw on the campaign money circuit. He’s scooping up checks for the New Jersey Republican Party this week at events in Beverly Hills, Santa Ana, Silicon Valley, Missouri and Louisiana.

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So it came as little surprise that Christie added another dash of fuel to the talk by taking a shot at Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a leading Republican contender for president.

Responding to a question from the audience, Christie said he opposed laws that allowed the children of illegal immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition at public colleges. Perry, who has taken heat from rivals for approving such a law in Texas, has said critics of the policy have no heart.

“From my perspective, that is not a heartless position,” Christie said. “That is a common-sense position.”

In a half-hour speech paying tribute to Reagan, Christie also took swipes at President Obama, saying the Democratic incumbent was trying to “divide our nation to achieve reelection.”

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“This is not a leadership style,” Christie said, referring to the president’s proposal to raise taxes on high-income earners. “This is a reelection strategy — telling those who are scared and struggling that the only way their lives can get better is to diminish the success of others ... insisting that we must tax and take and demonize those who have already achieved the American dream.

“That may turn out to be a good reelection strategy, Mr. President, but it is a demoralizing message for America,” Christie said. The crowd burst into applause.

While saying Obama lacked “the courage to lead,” Christie was more mild in his implied criticism of fellow Republicans who control the House of Representatives.

“We watch a Congress at war with itself because they’re unwilling to leave campaign-style politics at the Capitol’s door,” he said. “The result is a debt ceiling limitation debate that made our democracy appear as if we could no longer effectively govern ourselves.”

Rumors on Christie’s potential presidential run were stoked earlier in the day in a National Review report that Thomas Kean, a former New Jersey governor, said Christie was giving a lot of thought to appeals “from major figures around the country.”

“I think the odds are a lot better now than they were a couple weeks ago,” Kean said.

During questioning, the subject of a run was raised by three people in the Reagan Library audience. One woman got a standing ovation after telling him, “I really implore you as a citizen of this country to please, sir, reconsider.”

“Your country needs you,” she said.

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Christie joked that only “a crazy egomaniac” would see such appeals as a burden.

“It’s extraordinarily flattering,” he said. “But by the same token, that heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. That reason has to reside inside me.”

michael.finnegan@latimes.com


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