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Christie Opens 2016 Campaign, Long Climb Ahead


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie officially joined the 2016 presidential race Tuesday. In doing so, Christie vowed to lead what he called “a noble effort to try to lead our country and to change the world.”

Christie became the 14th Republican candidate to get into the race in what promises to be a long and hard fought campaign for the party nomination next year.

Christie returned to his high school in Livingston, New Jersey, to make the announcement before his wife and four children, and an enthusiastic crowd of supporters who have long embraced his blunt-spoken, and at times combative, style.

“When I stand up on a stage like this in front of all of you there is one thing you will know for sure,” Christie told the crowd. “I say what I mean, and I mean what I say, and that is what America needs right now!”

Christie advocated budget cuts in domestic spending, a hard look at entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare and he also indicated a willingness to compromise with Democrats where possible.

Vow to restore leadership

Christie also laid out a forceful vision in foreign policy, an area where he has been most critical of President Barack Obama.

“America is tired of hand-wringing and indecisiveness and weakness in the Oval Office,” he said.

"There is only one indispensable force for good in the world and it is a strong, unequivocal America that will lead the world and not be afraid to tell our friends, 'We will be with you no matter what,' and to tell our adversaries that there are limits to your conduct and America will enforce the limits to that conduct,” Christie said.

Christie spoke on the same day as the release of a new CNN/ORC poll that found Obama's public approval rating has climbed to 50 percent, it's highest point in two years.

The survey came on the heels of two Supreme Court rulings last week, one that upheld Obama's signature health care law and another that affirmed a nationwide right to marry for same-sex couples.

Larger than life persona

Christie is well known for his combative personality and his confrontations with critics and voters alike are often replayed endlessly in news clips.

Christie was especially aggressive in shutting down a heckler a few years ago at a news conference where he spoke about recovery efforts in the wake of Super Storm Sandy, which devastated the New Jersey coast in 2012.

“So Listen, you want to have the conversation later?" he asked. "I am happy to have it, buddy. But until that time, sit down and shut up!”

But Christie’s popularity has slipped in New Jersey in recent years, in part because of his blunt-spoken style, but also because a scandal involving some of his aides who allegedly used traffic tie-ups in northern New Jersey to get back at a political rival.

Christie will be hard-pressed to make an immediate impact in a crowded Republican field that includes former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

Bush spoke about his leadership skills during a recent campaign stop in Nevada.

“I think we need to elect someone who has actually done it, who knows how to lead, who knows how to bring people together and have an agenda and act on it,” Bush said.

Christie must also compete for attention with the likes of businessman Donald Trump, who remains on the defensive after comments in his presidential announcement speech slamming Mexican immigrants.

“They are bringing drugs," Trump said. "They are bringing crime. They are rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

NBC television has cut its ties with Trump, ending a partnership that produced two popular TV shows, “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice,” which propelled Trump as a reality TV star.

Polls show Christie is well back in the Republican field nationally at about three or four percent.

But he has plenty of company back there and Christie will focus on small town meeting style gatherings, especially in New Hampshire, to try and set himself apart.

Public opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise institute said that the presidential race is still in the early stages and anything can happen.

“We have a bunch of them clustered at the top, perhaps with Jeb Bush leading but then several governors and a senator in that second tier overall," Bowman said. "But still it is a field that has yet to jell, yet to take shape, so I think we have to see a lot more of these candidates.”

Looking for a winner

Christie must convince Republicans he can beat the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, said Republican pollster Ed Goeas.

“The Republican Party is in the strongest position it has been in 90 years in terms of governors, state legislatures that they control [including] Congress and the Senate," he said. "The one place they have not gotten there yet is the White House, and so someone who can win is an extra component that is in there.”

Christie’s record as a governor and someone not afraid to work with Democrats could help set him apart in the field and appeal to moderate Republicans.

“I think they are looking for competence and that often gives some of our governors a boost because our governors have to balance budgets, a little different from those of us in Washington,” Bowman said.

Two more Republican contenders are expected to announce in the weeks ahead: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

That would bring the total Republican field to 16 with only weeks to go until the first debate in Cleveland on August 6.

Debate organizers have said they will limit their group to the top 10 contenders based on an average of national polls.

2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates, as of June 30, 2015.

2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates, as of June 30, 2015.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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