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New Jersey's Chris Christie To Join GOP Presidential Field


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joins the crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls this morning. His presidential ambitions have been no secret. He's essentially been campaigning for months.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: If you are willing to fight with me, I will always stand with you and fight with you and tell you the truth. God bless this country, and God bless all of you.


MONTAGNE: That was from a speech to conservative activists in Iowa back in January. Still, Christie's announcement today may catch some by surprise. In his home state, he's battled a spate of bad publicity and sinking poll numbers. WNYC reporter Matt Katz has a book coming out about Chris Christie and joined us to talk about today's announcement. Good morning.

MATT KATZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, why does Gov. Christie think he can win the Republican nomination?

KATZ: He believes he's the most talented political communicator in the field and perhaps the country. So for him, that means beating opponents in a crowded debate with the best zingers. It means saying things to hecklers, like sit down and shut up, in a way that some people might find grating or jarring. It also means talking about what he learned from his mother on her deathbed in a way that makes old men cry. This is a story he used in his introductory video he released over the weekend. So in a jam-packed field like we have, Chris Christie thinks he can just rise above all the noise.

MONTAGNE: Well, Chris Christie was part of the noise, although I must say - a lot last year - in a way that politicians usually don't want. His aids were accused of shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge and causing a massive traffic jam, all to punish a New Jersey mayor for not backing Christie's re-election bid as governor. Where does the investigation into that incident stand?

KATZ: It has led to two indictments, one of his former deputy chief of staff and another of his top appointee at the Port Authority, which is the agency that runs the bridge. In addition, another official has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against the others. As of now, the trial is scheduled to start in November, which would be just a couple of months before the first ballots are cast in the GOP primary race. Fortunately for Christie, he has not been named by federal investigators as having known about the plan or having been involved in any sort of cover-up. But there have been accusations by lawyers who are involved in the case that Christie knew more than he has so far let on.

MONTAGNE: So how much of a liability is this scandal that's come to be known as Bridgegate?

KATZ: When I talked to Republican voters in those super important early states, like New Hampshire and Iowa, they don't bring it up. When I asked them what they are concerned about with Christie, they talk about how he had cozied up to President Obama after Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey in 2012. But Bridgegate does seem to have damaged the truth-telling brand that was Christie's whole M.O.

MONTAGNE: And as the 14th candidate running for the Republican nomination, how do you expect him to package himself to appeal to all of these Republican primary voters that he needs to appeal to?

KATZ: It's going to be different than what he would've run before Bridgegate. He was going to run as this big tent Republican who won re-election in a blue state with the majority of women, independents and Hispanics. But with his brand damaged like it has been, he's going to have to position himself as more of a traditional conservative. He's already making subtle moves to the right on Common Core, abortion and guns, and then he's going to be running as the wonk (ph). He's been delivering these detailed policy addresses on issues like Social Security and foreign policy. He wants to be telling uncomfortable truths about Social Security. That's his new truth-telling brand - that he's going to tell you we need to raise the retirement age, for example. So it's not going to be about standing up to the base, which maybe would've been how he had would've run a pre-Bridgegate race when he was the establishment-dominating candidate. Instead, he's going to be getting more specific about controversial topics that may appeal to conservatives.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

KATZ: Thanks a lot, Renee.

MONTAGNE: WNYC's Matt Katz, who's forthcoming book is called "American Governor: Chris Christie's Bridge To Redemption." The New Jersey governor announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Katz
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