MANCHESTER, N.H. -- You can call him “Governor,” “likely presidential candidate” or even just plain “Chris," the informal name with which Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) introduced himself to prospective voters in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
Just don’t call him “moderate,” if you want to stay in the New Jersey governor's good graces.
“No,” Christie responded when a reporter asked whether he would describe himself using the m-word -- a label that, if it were to stick, could become a distinct liability in a Republican presidential primary setting.
“Listen, I’ve vetoed tax increases," Christie said. "We have $2.5 billion less in discretionary spending in New Jersey today than we had eight years ago. I’ve balanced six budgets in a row. I’ve lowered the employee head count in New Jersey by 8,500 employees in five years. I’ve vetoed Planned Parenthood funding.”
These are all conservative positions, the governor added.
Christie then offered an explanation for why people might incorrectly assume that he is, in fact, a moderate.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people determine what they think you are based on where you’re from,” he said. “I’m a northeastern Republican who’s a little ethnic, so people assume you’re a moderate. Look at the record. I have a pretty conservative record.”
Christie’s father is of German, Irish and Scottish ancestry, while his mother was of Sicilian descent.
The New Jersey governor was in New Hampshire kicking off a four-day visit -- his longest sojourn yet in an early voting state.
Christie began the day at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, where he outlined a proposal for sweeping entitlement reforms -- a 12-point plan to overhaul Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and disability insurance that he said would save the country over $1 trillion over the next decade.
In presenting the plan, Christie sought to bolster his image as a blunt truth-teller who is willing to tackle the nation’s toughest long-term fiscal problems.
“Strong, decisive, honest leadership matters for America,” he said. “It’s only when governors and presidents and concerned citizens like you decide to step up and take action that we can really solve our problems.”
After delivering the sober-minded policy speech, Christie greeted the lunchtime crowd at Caesario’s, a pizza place in downtown Manchester, though he did not sample any of the casual restaurant’s offerings.
As a crush of camera crews and reporters followed behind, he then strolled down Elm Street -- the central drag in New Hampshire’s largest city -- and greeted residents who were out and about on the unseasonably warm day.
Although Christie has faded from the front of the pack of Republican 2016 contenders, his brain trust believes his path back into contention will be paved through direct voter contact in small settings where the governor can show off his strong personality and retail politicking skills.
Christie has said that he will not decide whether to formally enter the race until May or June, but he certainly sounded like a candidate on Tuesday when asked what distinguishes him from the emerging GOP field.
“I’ve governed in a very difficult place that looks much more like Washington, D.C., than anybody else has governed,” he said. “I deal with a difficult Democratic legislature every day.”