Loud, reasonable, union-busting New Jersey governor Chris Christie has emerged as a national figure since ousting Jon Corzine 15 months ago, and just might be the GOP 2012 presidential front runner if he was actually, you know, interested in running for president. This hasn't stopped Beltway journalists from speculating about the immense appeal a Chrisite candidacy would hold for a large bloc of voters who hate out-of-control Washington spending but also think the president is an OK guy who wasn't born in Kenya, Indonesia, or the Al Jazeera kitchenette.
But is Christie the non-candidate more vulnerable than he appears? In today's New York Times, Richard Pérez-Peña and David M. Halbfinger examine the question of Christie's political strength and find that for all his "in-your-face frankness and nonstop aggressiveness" the Garden State governor has some notable chinks in his armor.
Chief among them, according to Pérez-Peña and Halbfinger, is the question of just how effectively Christie has enacted the politics of austerity. Christie grabbed headlines back in October when he scrapped plans for an $11 billion rail connection that would have linked New Jersey to Manhattan, yet his "agenda of balancing the budget, rescuing a pension fund that could go broke within a decade and curtailing rising property taxes — the holy grail of politics in his heavily suburban state — is far from achieved." And while Christie has "closed a yawning budget deficit that he estimated at almost $11 billion," a feat the Times notes was only accomplished by "skipping a $3 billion payment to the pension system." Even with major union contracts expiring in June and the prospect of a wage freeze on the horizon, New Jersey "will still be deeply in debt, and facing a growing shortfall in its pension fund — $54 billion and counting — that helped spur a downgrade of the state’s bonds." With no quick fixes to the state's budget mess, the governor, despite his national popularity, runs the risk "the wrath of voters" at home, especially when they discover many of Christie's fixes have merely "shifted [state expenses] onto their local tax bills."
Then again, Christie won't have to face that "wrath" until 2013, when he is up for reelection. And it strikes us that there's something he might want to do before then.