N.J. Gov. Christie touts 'blunt' nature in Macomb stop

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Shelby Township — New Jersey Gov. and potential GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie told Macomb County Republicans Friday night that he would use his "blunt, outspoken" nature to tell the American people the truth.

"I think the American people are afraid of the inaction, the pettiness and the smallness coming out of the (President's) office," Christie told a crowd of around 800 supporters at the Macomb GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner at Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township. "They want someone who can tell us the truth about our problems and chart a course on how to solve them."

Christie was the second potential White House hopeful to speak in Michigan in recent weeks. On Feb. 4, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke to the Economic Club of Detroit. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to speak to Oakland County Republicans May 4.

Michigan may be a greater factor in the Republican presidential campaign in 2016 than in recent years, because the GOP primary will be March 8 — at the early end of the state contests.

Although he hasn't officially declared himself a GOP candidate in the 2016 Presidential election, it sounded Friday like Christie was edging closer to his decision.

"We have a fundamental decision to make in the next 20 months: Is this the country we are absolutely willing to fight for with every thread of our being and our time, or are we going to stick our heads in the sands, enjoy our creature comforts and say it's someone else's problems because they are too big," he said.

"These problems aren't too big ... This country is worth fighting for. If you stand with me I will stand with you, and we will retake America again."

Christie's half-hour speech covered a range of topics, including foreign policy — ISIS, relations with Iran and Israel and military might — to domestic issues such as reforming entitlements and the tax code, repealing the Affordable Care Act and approving the Keystone XL Pipeline.

He also said the country's biggest economic problem is "opportunity inequality."

"Raising the minimum wage isn't the way to do it," he said. "Do you think there is a family sitting around a table tonight, saying 'if only our daughter only made a higher minimum wage, all our dreams for her would be realized?'"

Christie said he can meet the country's challenges because he isn't afraid to say and do what is necessary.

"The media often says I'm too blunt. They say, 'He even told someone to sit down and shut up,' " said Christie. "I don't do it often but every once in a while someone needs to sit down and shut up."

The field of candidates is expected to grow dramatically in the coming weeks and many Republicans are already raising million and locking up key staffers in the primary states. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced this week that he is running.

Christie raised money and campaigned alongside Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — whose name also has been mentioned for the nomination — during the last governor's race in Michigan. As a potential GOP candidate, Christie has mostly stayed in New Jersey so far, where budgetary issues and a slow economy have led critics to say Christie is more interested in running for president than governing his state.

When he was chairman of the Republican Governor's Association last year, Christie traveled to 36 states, with 19 trips in five days before the midterm election.

But his supporters have been making moves. Two weeks ago, they announced new hires and donors as well as the launch of a super PAC that can raise unlimited money toward his presidential bid.

An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll conducted this month, for instance, found 57 percent of registered voters who say they'll vote in a Republican primary cannot see themselves supporting Christie for the nomination.

The Michigan Democratic Party released a statement to "highlight Christie's failed record in New Jersey."

"One only needs to look to New Jersey's economy to know what Governor Chris Christie's top-down economic policies would mean for this country, benefiting the wealthy and burdening the middle class," the party said. "The result of his economic policies in New Jersey is a perfect example of how the Republican top-down economic plan puts a greater strain on the middle class and holds back the state's ability to grow."

Harv Sainsbury, who attended the dinner, said Christie's speech was good because it touched on specifics.

"He was upbeat," the Chesterfield resident said. "He sounded like a regular guy, a regular Joe."

Former state Sen. Alan Sanborn of Richmond Township said Christie is "a great speaker, but I think in the next 20 months we're going to hear a lot of great speakers. We'll listen to all the speakers before making our decision."

The Lincoln dinner is the Macomb County Republican Party's largest fundraiser of the year. Attendees paid $60 each for dinner and Christie's speech. For $150, some met with Christie at a private reception and took photos before dinner. As soon as his speech was over, aides whisked him out a side door and into a waiting SUV.

Locally, Christie angered some Metro Detroiters when the camera caught him celebrating with Dallas Cowboy's owner Jerry Jones in his private box after the Cowboys playoff win over the Detroit Lions 24-20 on January 4.

It didn't take long for the jokes about that to start Friday night. Master of Ceremonies Rob Huth wore a cowboy hat, pretending to be Jones. He also brought out some men dressed as referees who reenacted the controversial penalty reversal call from that game. A Christie look-alike in a mustard colored sweater hopped up from the audience to jump around on stage and hug the fake football club owner.

When the real Christie took the stage, he couldn't avoid commenting on the parody. He brought the doppelganger onstage, hugged him enthusiastically and said, "If I need an understudy, you're right there. In the top two or three."


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The Associated Press contributed.