Christie has little time in NJ for legislative wins to impress conservatives, help toward 2016

What are the New Jersey governor's strengths and weaknesses if he plans a run for president?


New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie has little time to add to his legislative accomplishments in his home state to win over still-skeptical conservatives should he indeed be pursuing a 2016 White House bid, his advisers say.

Christie’s decisive reelection victory -- winning Tuesday by 22 points over his Democratic challenger -- is less than a week old. But the ground work for early GOP primaries and caucuses appears right around the corner.

Some conservatives are still upset over Christie welcoming President Obama to New Jersey in the aftermath of 2012 SuperStorm Sandy, with the president in the final days of a tough re-election campaign.

"I don't like the man," said Chelle Adkins, a Republican activist from northern Iowa, the state set to hold the nation's first presidential nominating contest in roughly two years. "I'll vote for him over a Democrat, but not in the caucuses."

However, others argue that Christie’s post-Sandy efforts in fact proved true fiscal-conservative credentials -- making a first-priority of helping residents and the state economy.

Brian Baker, president of the nonprofit Ending Spending, recently told FoxNews.com the objective in Republican presidential primaries – expected to be dominated again by conservative candidates -- is to pick the most conservative candidate “who can win the general election.”

“People will have to look at [Christie's] record and see if he’s governing as a fiscal conservative,” he said. “In my view, he did, even though it happened in the middle of a presidential election."

National Democrats wasted little time in trying to knock back a Christie presidential bid, saying within hours of him taking a second term that he won on the strength of an outsized personality and the randomness of getting to lead in the aftermath of a natural disaster that attracted nationwide attention.

The Christie advisers says the governor has only the one-year window before he becomes a political lame duck and essentially powerless to get legislation passed.

His to-do list includes cutting taxes and enacting education changes that include school vouchers, policy goals that conservatives probably would cheer.

Christie also plans to continue courting Hispanics. He has expressed support for a New Jersey law that would grant in-state tuition for children of people living in the United States illegally.

While that policy might alienate some conservatives, Christie is betting that he can maintain the popularity among minority voters that was a key to his re-election.

He became the first Republican in a quarter-century to capture more than 50 percent of the New Jersey vote. He won 60 percent against state. Sen. Barbara Buono.

Exit polls show that the New Jersey Republican recorded strong showings among women, blacks and Hispanics -- segments of the electorate that have shunned the GOP in recent years.

Christie is showing little sign of slowing down after his victory.

"I am thrilled to have the campaign behind me and to get back to governing, which is what we're going to do starting today," Christie said Wednesday at an urban charter school, a setting chosen to emphasize his focus on Hispanic outreach and education.

By Thursday and Friday, Christie was meeting with legislative leaders and his Cabinet ahead of an upcoming lame-duck legislative session. He is schedule to appear on four nationally televised news shows, including “Fox News Sunday.”

Christie's advisers say he probably will avoid overt actions associated with presidential politics in the short term, such as visits to early voting Iowa or New Hampshire.

But later this month, he begins a one-year term as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. That job offers an opportunity to strengthen alliances with other governors and broaden his network of big-dollar donors beyond the New Jersey area.

GOP strategists say that will only help Christie be well-positioned for a run.

"To the degree he spends the next year helping Republican governors, it makes it a lot harder to say he hasn't been out doing the hard work for the cause. And winning sells," said GOP strategist Phil Musser.

Christie already has a network of supporters in important places.

The day after Christie's re-election, the New Hampshire GOP hired one of his regional political directors as its executive director. In Iowa, Christie is the first would-be presidential candidate that Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, mentions when he talks about the emerging field.

Doug Gross, an Iowa Republican involved in at least two GOP presidential campaigns in that state, has purportedly urged Christie to run, after saying last year that party members could no longer trust Christie and wouldn’t forget what he did.

Gross told FoxNews.com a few weeks ago that issue is still there for some people.

“Christie will have to overcome it, but I think he’ll be able to,” he said.

Still, Christie is not the obvious favorite of hard-liners who typically dominate primaries. They recently have shown far more excitement about potential candidates such as U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Christie, who emphasized a bipartisan tone during his campaign, is more moderate than those others. He is a convert to opposing abortion rights and decided last month to stop fighting legalized gay marriage in New Jersey. Both positions are seen as deal-breakers with the conservative wing of the GOP, particularly in Iowa and South Carolina.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.