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Obama lost chance to ‘cement’ reelection by not heeding deficit commission, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie says

President Obama missed an opportunity to “cement” his reelection by failing to embrace the recommendations of his deficit commission, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in a heavily promoted speech in Washington on Wednesday.

The tough-talking Republican pointed to his own experience after more than a year in office in the Garden State, saying Americans are desperate for leaders who are actually willing to show leadership in challenging economic times.

Before the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Christie detailed the steps he has taken in Trenton to grapple with one of the most fiscally dire budget situations in the country. And he pointed to new governors – even Democrats in states like New York and California – who he said were following his path in calling for cuts in the state workforce and union member benefits, and caps on municipal spending increases.

“Everybody said my approval ratings were going to tank. They’ve gone up,” Christie said. “That’s not because people aren’t paying attention. I’d suggest to you it’s because they really are paying attention, and they’re saying, ‘Oh man, someone’s actually talking to us like we’re adults.’”

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It’s a model he said should be applied nationally, and Christie said it’s about time lawmakers followed through on promises to have an “adult conversation.” For example, Christie said lawmakers must reform Medicare and raise the retirement age for Social Security.

“I just said it, and I’m still standing here. I did not vaporize!” he joked as he reached for what is sometimes called the third rail of American politics – entitlement reform. “You cannot fix these problems without talking about them, and I look at what’s happening in Washington, DC, right now and I’m worried,” he said.

Christie said he thought that would change after November’s elections, praising the president’s speech in Tucson that he thought was the start of a newly aggressive presidency. As a Republican, Christie said he feared Obama would embrace the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and “cement reelection.”

“He is not only going to look like a centrist, he’s going to do it,” Christie recalls himself thinking.

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Instead, Obama called for “investments” in high-speed rail and expanded broadband – worthy initiatives, but ones that duck the real problems, he argued.

“What I was looking for that night was for my president to stand up and challenge me,” he said. “It was a disappointment that he didn’t.”

Christie has become one of the Republican Party’s fastest-rising stars since unseating incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine in November 2009. His confrontations with the Democratic Legislature and the state’s powerful teachers’ union made him a hero to conservatives, and he was one of the most sought-after surrogates in the 2010 midterm campaign.

While he and his advisors have at times embraced his newfound status, they have also worked carefully to manage expectations about his political future. Christie turned down a request to deliver the GOP response to Obama’s State of the Union address this year, and he also passed on attending this past weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

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And then there is the 2012 question.

Even though it had been asked countless times before, the first question posted to Christie Wednesday was whether he would run for president next year.

“Apparently I actually have to commit suicide to convince people I’m not running,” he said to laughter.

“There are lots of people who will run just because the opportunity presents itself. And I’m not stupid, I see the opportunity,” he continued. “That’s not a reason to be president of the United States. You have to believe in your heart and in your soul and in your mind that you are ready, and I don’t believe that about myself right now.”

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Christie has, however, accepted a new position as the vice chair for policy in the Republican Governors Assn. – an announcement that coincided with his trip to Washington.

“In the end, all I can do is to speak out like this … and then lead by example,” he said.

mmemoli@tribune.com


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