WASHINGTON (AP) â€” Forget Springsteen, the Sopranos and Snooki. The hottest thing outta New Jersey is Gov. Chris Christie â€” at least politically.
In office just a year, he has become a GOP hero for his eagerness to slash spending and target Democratic-friendly unions in the midst of an economic crisis.
Fellow Republicans everywhere are highlighting the former federal prosecutor’s get-tough approach as the prescription for addressing fiscal emergencies gripping all levels of government and rehabilitating a GOP image that was damaged during the bloated George W. Bush years.
As Christie himself has said: “As a party, it is put up or shut up time.”
With President Barack Obama and Congress in the first week of a budget battle that will stretch into the spring, Christie was delivering a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on Wednesday in which he planned to challenge Republicans and Democrats alike to follow his lead.
An emerging player on the national stage, Christie has become so beloved among conservatives for his efforts to shrink government and rein in spending that some Republicans are clamoring for him to run for the White House next year.
Christie insists he won’t â€” at least in 2012 â€” and there are no signs that he will.
But, even without launching a bid, he’s still part of the campaign conversation and putting his imprint on the race. And he could end up on the eventual GOP nominee’s vice presidential short list.
His name came up frequently last weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which more than 10,000 activists attended even though he didn’t.
“Chris Christie has shown responsible spending cuts can be achieved even in a usually blue state like New Jersey,” said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, one of several likely presidential candidates who have argued that the Christie model could â€” and should â€” be replicated across the country.
Pundit Ann Coulter elicited cheers in the audience when she said flatly, “If we don’t run Chris Christie, Mitt Romney will be the nominee and we will lose.” And Christie earned higher support in the conference’s presidential preference poll than Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee, who both also skipped the gathering but are far better known.
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