New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's larger-than-life personality is what first earned him popularity in the Garden State, but his leadership following Hurricane Sandy is what's helping keep his sky-high approval rating up as a Republican running for re-election in a state President Barack Obama won by 17 points.
Christie has made few political missteps regarding his handling of the storm and even found ways to rebuff criticisms of his state's lack of preparedness, setting himself up for an easy re-election Nov. 5, where he leads his Democratic opponent by more about 26 points, according to a RealClearPolitics.com polling average, and bolstering a potential presidential bid in 2016.
"The aggressiveness with which he stood up for the state will certainly mark him as a decisive leader," says Ross Baker, political science professor at Rutgers University. Baker says Christie took fire from fiscal hawks in his own party by pressing Congress for emergency storm recovery funds in the heat of a presidential election, but it's paid dividends in state.
"[Christie] not only regarded it as a disservice to the people of New Jersey, who he pointed out send more money to Washington than they get in return, but it also was simply an ungenerous thing in light of the fact that disaster aid had flowed to so many other communities that were struck by disasters," Baker said of House GOP opposition to emergency funding.
Christie is certainly not shying away from his role in obtaining federal dollars. His office sent out a press release Monday, the day before the one-year Sandy anniversary, touting the "more than" $5.67 billion in federal aid sent to New Jersey.
Christie's approach is a unique one among potential Republican presidential candidates, who from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., seem to be focused on beefing up their conservative credentials rather than touting bipartisanship. But the Springsteen-superfan not only butted heads with House Republicans, he literally embraced Obama when he visited the ravaged region in the days leading up to the 2012 presidential election, something that earned him scorn from members of his own party.
"That meeting with the president down on the shore was controversial, but only with a very small number of Republicans who believe that somehow he was giving his benediction to the president in 2012," Baker says. "And I think for most people – who profess to be interested in bipartisan cooperation – it was obviously a very significant and desirable event."
Baker adds that Christie has also successfully brushed aside those leveling potentially substantive critics of his Sandy-related leadership.
"One of the things of course is that virtually all of the coastal states have come up with plans for dealing with future environmental problems and New Jersey has not, which may not necessarily hurt him with people who are skeptical of climate change, global warming and rising sea levels," he says. "He's also satisfactorily deflected most of the criticism that was directed at preparation for the storm, particularly in the case of the New Jersey transit trains that were left vulnerable."
In short, Hurricane Sandy still seems to be blowing in New Jersey – at least when it comes to Christie's political career.