New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered his fifth State of the State address Tuesday, but it sounded more like a presidential announcement.
Less than two years away from Election Day, Christie sent his firmest signal yet that he intends to run for the White House in 2016, with a decidedly national theme, coming off a 2014 spent traveling the country on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidates. “We need a New Jersey renewal and we need an American renewal,” Christie declared several months before he is expected to make his candidacy official.
The speech comes a day after Christie secured the backing of former Republican National Committee Finance Chair Ray Washburne for his future presidential campaign and a day before Christie is scheduled to attend a meet-and-greet with donors in South Carolina, a presidential early state.
Teasing at a possible presidential campaign theme, Christie says what he saw across the country during his travels was “a nation beset by anxiety.”
“It is understandable,” Christie said, delivering an implicit critique of the Obama administration. “Economic growth is low by post-war recovery standards. America’s leadership in the world is called into question because of a pattern of indecision and inconsistency.”
“We need to address this anxiety head on,” he continued. “We need to renew the spirit and the hopes of our state, our country and our people.”
Christie’s remarks contrast his leadership of New Jersey with the “Washington way,” hailing his own conservative record of opposing tax increases and holding up his leadership of the state as a model for the nation.
The governor devoted much of his address to highlighting his efforts to tackle drug addiction and mental health in the state, announcing the creation of a statewide call number to allow those in need with a one-stop access to services. He also marked a longstanding effort to turn around the long-blighted city of Camden, which has seen a surge in public and private investment under Christie after decades of decline.
The address coincides with a drop in Christie’s approval rating in the state as he eyes higher office. Christie sought to cast his state’s economic progress in a positive light, pointing to a declining unemployment rate and balanced budget, even as its reality is far murkier. The governor avoided discussing efforts to confront fiscal turmoil in Atlantic City and avoided specifics on dealing with mounting pension costs that have caused repeated credit downgrades.
The presidential hopeful briefly alluded to the ongoing drama surrounding the politically-motivated closure of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge by Christie aides in 2013. Christie has denied wrongdoing, but a federal probe into the incident continues. “In a year with plenty of politics from some overly partisan corners of this chamber, New Jersey has made progress,” Christie said.
Illustrating the out-of-state focus of the speech, Christie met off the record with national reporters before his address, leaving out members of his state press corps.
In a web video posted Tuesday to coincide with the address, the Democratic National Committee mocked Christie’s record and presidential ambitions.