Will Gov. Christie do battle with New Jersey's Democrat-controlled Legislature when his second term begins in January, tacking to the right to prepare for an anticipated presidential bid? Or is the Republican governor already in a solid position to seek his party's nomination?
Republican and Democratic strategists debated that question while discussing the upcoming legislative session today at a forum hosted by the New Jersey Business Industry Association at the Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel in Iselin.
To curry favor with conservatives, Christie "is going to have to move drastically to the right," said Julie Roginsky, a Fox News contributor who was a consultant to Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker's campaign. She predicted "complete loggerheads" with Democrats in the Legislature.
Roger Bodman, a Republican strategist, disagreed. "Chris Christie is what he is," Bodman said of the governor, who has been described in recent polls as the party frontrunner, though he has not announced he is running for president. "He's not going to change his stripes."
"He already did. Immigration," Roginsky said, referring to Christie's recent announcement that he would not sign a bill granting in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants after voicing support for the tuition equality while running for governor. Christie – who denies backtracking on the bill – said he objects to granting undocumented students access to state financial aid, among other provisions.
Bodman said Christie would run "on what I call the 'Are you sick of losing yet?' platform." Supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan will split the Republican vote, Bodman said, leaving Christie with a majority.
"They said Mitt Romney was supposed to be that guy and look what happened to him," Roginsky said of the former Massachusetts governor's loss to President Obama last year.
Dale Florio, Republican strategist with Princeton Public Affairs, said leadership in the Legislature "would love to see the governor run for the White House" and win, noting that Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), appears to be positioning himself to succeed Christie as governor.
"You're going to see that relationship between the governor and Senate president adjust a little bit," with Sweeney also trying to burnish his resume, Florio said.
Bill Pascrell III, Democratic strategist with Princeton Public Affairs, said Christie "has a Herculean task ahead of him," handling the job of governor while serving as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and staging a presidential campaign.
Juggling those roles is "going to take some major acrobatics," he said.