New Jersey Gov. Christie came to Philadelphia to bask in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln on Thursday, accepting an award named for the former Republican president before evoking modern-day GOP principles in a highly partisan speech.
Addressing the 15th annual Lincoln Day luncheon at the Union League on Broad Street, Christie mocked both his Democratic adversaries in Trenton and his Democratic predecessor, Jon S. Corzine - even invoking Corzine's speaking voice at one point.
Christie said he had turned Trenton "upside down" after inheriting a mess from Corzine and had since pulled the remaining Statehouse Democrats to the right - to the point that they now support tax cuts.
When he was elected, he said, "there were not a whole lot of people who thought that New Jersey was going to be the state that led the resurgence of Republican values across America."
But that's exactly what has happened, Christie said.
"It's not about the power of my persuasion; it's about the power of my ideas," he said. "And it's . . . time in America again for the power of these ideas and principles."
Reaching further than he had recently, he suggested that even President Obama was following his lead when he used the phrase big things in his State of the Union address last month, shortly after Christie had christened the phrase in his State of the State address.
But the difference, Christie said, is that he believes pension reform, fiscal responsibility, and an overhaul of the education system are the "big things," not Obama's goals of high-speed rail and high-speed Internet, which are the "candy in life."
John Meko, executive director of Foundations of the Union League, which ran the Lincoln Day celebration, said Christie's speech was more political than typical addresses from Lincoln Award winners.
"Chris Christie has obviously become, very quickly, a national figure," Meko said. "The message that Christie gave today, and what he's trying to do in New Jersey, is certainly one that resonated among the membership."
The nonpartisan Union League, founded in 1862 as a patriotic society to support Lincoln and the Union, now has 3,200 members, many of whom are well-heeled business and civic leaders.
Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Republican Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett are previous Lincoln Award winners, as is former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat.
Speaking in an ornate dining room before several hundred people, Christie said he believed he was "preaching to the choir," and he hoped the choir would "sing" his principles to "the people in your life that matter."
"We must remind ourselves all the time as Republicans that if we stand firmly and resolutely for our principles that we will win, because we are right," Christie said.
In a comment that may have raised eyebrows about the governor's political ambitions, he said he hoped "that here across the Delaware River I will have supporters and friends - not for me, but for those principles."
He also linked his mission with that of Lincoln's: "The man whose award I got today did not turn away when it was too hard."
The luncheon was preceded by a gun salute on Broad Street performed by Civil War reenactors and a reading of the Gettysburg Address by a Lincoln presenter on the steps of the Union League building.
After Christie's speech, in which he received a Lincoln statuette, the reenactors paraded to Independence Hall.
Christie blasted public-sector unions, as he often does, "because they have lived in an unreal world with runaway salaries, runaway benefits, and, worse yet, no accountability." He said the only two professions left in the United States that offered "no reward for excellence and no consequences for failure" were weather forecasters and teachers.
The Republican governor drew laughs when he recounted one of his favorite stories: about how he had three options for state health insurance when he became governor - a good plan, a mediocre plan, and a poor plan - and all three cost the same.
Christie's first reaction was to ask for the names of all the employees who chose the worst health plan, because "they are too stupid to be in government, and that's a low bar."
He, of course, took the best plan.
Such comments, sure to infuriate certain constituencies, seemed to buoy the statement by State Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington), who introduced the governor: "Let me tell you, the era of timidity is over in New Jersey."