June 4, 2015
By Matt Arco
Gov. Christie greets audience members after the town hall meeting. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 137th Town Hall Meeting In Sparta at the Sussex County Technical School. Thursday May 14, 2015. Sparta, NJ, USA (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Vowing to be a presence in South Carolina as he inches closer to an announcement on whether he will seek the Republican presidential nomination, Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that he thought the state “is the kind of place where they appreciate folks who say things directly.”
Wrapping up a two-day tour of South Carolina, a conservative state that is home to the first presidential primary in the South, he assured residents that they could plan to see more of him.
“If I do run I would spend a lot of time here,” he said.
Christie’s comments capped a tour of Columbia, Greensville and Spartanburg, where voters quizzed the governor on his views on a range of issues.
But here are five things New Jersey residents should know about Christie’s latest visit to South Carolina:
1. Guns are a moving target
The governor’s quest to appeal to southern conservatives was on full display in South Carolina when Patrick Nolan, a concealed weapons instructor and competitive shooter, asked the governor for his stance on gun rights, saying “some questions have been raised about” his support for gun rights.
“I know there’s a lot of perception about my view on gun rights because I’m from New Jersey and because the laws are the way they are,” Christie said. “But these laws were being made long before I was governor and no new ones have been made since I’ve been governor.”
Christie failed to mention he actually signed several gun-related laws, including measures to ban those on the federal terrorism watch list from purchasing firearms, to require the state to submit data on those who should be barred from purchasing the weapons to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and to increase penalties for unlawful possession of firearms.
He also proposed banning sales of the .50 caliber rifle – one of the most powerful weapons available to civilians – before reversing course and vetoing legislation that would have banned it.
Christie’s response to South Carolinians would have people here believe the governor hardly supports New Jersey’s tough gun legislation. But the governor’s office has been on record in support of the state’s gun-control laws as recent as 2014, when former Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said “the governor supports New Jersey’s already tough gun laws.”
2. His views on foreign policy are a lot like Lindsay Graham’s
South Carolina’s senior U.S. senator, Lindsay Graham, is among the crowded GOP field seeking the Oval Office. When he announced his candidacy, Graham spoke in great detail on foreign policy (the U.S. needs to have a larger military presence in the Middle East and get tougher with Russia President Vladimir Putin, more troops need to be sent to Iraq and he supports government surveillance techniques currently under scrutiny).
Christie, who’s yet to officially announce, has also delivered a speech on foreign policy. And this is what he wanted South Carolina voters to know:
“I really like Lindsey a lot too and when I was down here for Gov. Haley’s inauguration in January we sat together … and we got through a lot of talking,” Christie said on Tuesday. “And if you heard Lindsay and I talk about foreign policy, you would say it sounds very similar, so there’s lots of things we agree on.”
On Wednesday, Christie was asked by reporters to expand on that comment and whether his foreign policy views mirror Graham’s. This is what he had to say:
“Well, I think there’s a lot of similarities between the approach Sen. Graham takes and the approach that I take to those issues, so I don’t know if they’re exactly identical,” he said. “We’ll see if they play out over time I suspect. But yeah, Lindsay and I agree on a lot of issues and when I hear him speak on foreign policy I find myself nodding my head more than shaking my head.”
3. His Common Core announcement was well-timed
About a week after he announced New Jersey is ditching Common Core education standards, a woman here asked for his position on the controversial topic. Christie responded it was “an interesting topic” for her to have raised given the timing of his announcement to dump the standards that have become a lightning rod among Republican voters.
Christie’s announcement allowed him to give a firm answer to Republican voters about his opposition to Common Core as he inches closer to a likely campaign. But not only that, the announcement came before Christie’s own commission he established to study Common Core issued its findings.
4. A northeast Republican can appeal to Southern conservatives
There’s good reason for Christie to return to South Carolina if he runs for president: People here greeted him warmly and many who showed up to hear him speak responded positively to him.
“Yes ma’am, I wouldn’t even have to think about it,” said Terry McMillian, a Baptist preacher living in Spartanburg, about supporting Christie in 2016. Simply put, he said, “We have too many wussies in Washington.”
5. He’s “ready now”
“So, you are running for president?” a man asked during one of Christie’s question-and-answer sessions.
No, Christie responded, “I haven’t made a decision yet.”
But, he said candidly, he doesn’t share his same mindset he had when he was weighing whether to run for president in 2012 and ultimately decided he wasn’t prepared to mount a national campaign.
“While I haven’t made my decision yet, I’m ready now,” he said.