New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is certainly riding high these days. His announcement that he will, as expected, seek reelection next year comes just as several new polls show his approval ratings have hit record levels in the Garden State.
According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, 72 percent of New Jersey voters currently approve of the job Governor Christie is doing. That’s the highest score ever recorded for a New Jersey governor, and a 16-point improvement for Christie since before superstorm Sandy hit the state last month. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released Monday put Christie's approval rate even higher, at 77 percent. Even 52 percent of Democrats in the Quinnipiac poll now approve of the governor.
In a release, Maurice Carroll, the Quinnipiac poll’s director, commented that Christie "never looked more like a 'Jersey Guy' than when he stood on the Seaside boardwalk after Sandy, and, just about unanimously, his New Jersey neighbors – Republicans, Democrats, Independents – applauded.”
The turnaround in Christie’s standing in his home state has clearly given pause to Democrats like Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who, not too long ago, seemed poised to mount a gubernatorial bid of his own.
Still, in politics, popularity – particularly when it comes in the wake of a single event – can be fleeting. The real questions are: How long can Christie’s halo last? And, even if it begins to tarnish (as history suggests may be inevitable), could it still help propel him to a White House bid in 2016?
One obvious comparison is the case of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Giuliani’s popularity skyrocketed. He went being from a controversial and combative Republican in a city of mostly Democrats to “America’s Mayor,” as Oprah Winfrey famously dubbed him. He was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, and he was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Notably, Giuliani managed to retain that image, nationally, for some time (it may have helped that term limits put him out of the office just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, which spared him some of the subsequent fights over victims’ compensation, rebuilding, and other thorny issues).
In early 2007, Giuliani was leading all other potential GOP presidential candidates in most national polls, with his approval ratings hovering in the mid-60s among all voters, and in the 80s among Republicans. But throughout the course of the campaign, Giuliani’s poll numbers steadily dropped. His post-9/11 reputation wasn't enough in the eyes of Republican primary voters to make up for his onetime liberal positions on social issues like abortion, gay rights, and guns (as well as his own marital history).
The harsh reaction from many conservatives to Christie's public praise of President Obama in the wake of Sandy suggests that he might face a similar set of hurdles were he to enter the presidential primary gauntlet.
Of course, dealing with the aftermath of a storm is not the same as dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. There's reason to believe voters in New Jersey may not show the same levels of patience with their public officials' dealing with the ongoing hassles of cleanup and rebuilding as New Yorkers did in the wake of 9/11. And in terms of national reverberations, the storm is clearly a less significant event (though that could actually be a good thing – since, ironically, Giuliani wound up having to argue in his presidential bid that there was more to him than 9/11, pleading with voters to look at his "whole record").
Still, the goodwill Christie amassed in the weeks immediately following the storm shouldn’t be underestimated, either. A perhaps more relevant comparison is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – who, interestingly, seems to be pondering a 2016 run himself. Bush was widely praised by Democrats and Republicans alike for his handling of a series of hurricanes that battered the Sunshine State in 2004 and 2005. The St. Petersburg Times dubbed him “The Hurricane Governor” in a laudatory profile that quoted Democratic strategists who'd worked for his opponent as saying he’d been “a superb leader.” Two years later, Bush left office with a nearly 60 percent approval rating.
On the other hand, it's worth noting that Bush’s predecessor, former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, was roundly criticized in the wake of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew – with his approval rating in the state going all the way down to a dismal 22 percent. Two years later he won reelection, anyway.