(Adds comment from audience member in 18th paragraph.)
Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he plans to sit out the 2012 presidential race and then used a nationally broadcast appearance to assail President Barack Obama as a “bystander in the Oval Office.”
The 49-year-old Republican pointed to video clips on the Politico website of him saying he’s not running. “Click on it, those are the answers,” he told a capacity crowd at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. That didn’t stop him from weighing in on the campaign.
“We continue to wait and hope that our president will finally stop being a bystander in the Oval Office,” Christie said yesterday. “We hope that he will shake off the paralysis that has made it impossible for him to take on the really big things that are obvious to all Americans.”
The governor’s address, carried live by Fox News and C- SPAN, was his most prominent opportunity yet to expand his influence in national politics. He used it to blast politicians in both parties for “a Congress at war with itself because they are unwilling to leave campaign-style politics at the Capitol’s door.”
Christie, who was interrupted several times by applause from the audience, called Obama “one of the dividers.”
“Insisting that we must tax and take and demonize those who have already achieved the American Dream -- that may turn out to be a good re-election strategy for President Obama, but is a demoralizing message for America,” Christie said.
Praise for Bipartisanship
The governor pointed to his compromises with the Democratic-led New Jersey Legislature on an overhaul of public- worker pensions and benefits that he says will save $120 billion over three decades.
“In New Jersey over the last 20 months, you have actually seen divided government that is working,” Christie said. “It does not mean that we have no argument or acrimony. There are serious disagreements, sometimes expressed loudly.”
He added, “You know, Jersey-style.”
Federal entitlement programs should be subject to stricter eligibility testing, the governor said.
“Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, to a lesser extent, are eating away at every dollar we raise in taxation,” Christie said. “What we need to do is sit down and get to a common-sense approach to reduce benefits, to means-test some of this stuff and get some of the people who don’t need it to stop taking it so we can get it to the people who do need it.”
Damage to Image
The first-term governor said the nation’s image overseas has suffered from the management of its domestic affairs.
“Through our own domestic political conduct of late, we have failed to live up to our own tradition of exceptionalism,” Christie said. “Our role and ability to affect change has been diminished because of our own problems and our inability to effectively deal with them.”
Christie said economic health is a national security issue for the U.S. and the country has lost its ability to persuade other nations to follow its example. He called for a more measured foreign policy, without detailing what he’d change.
“It was very much boilerplate foreign-policy language,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University polling institute in West Long Branch. “Except for the outright attacks on Obama and references to Reagan, it could have been delivered by any member of either party.”
‘Country Needs You’
Christie delivered his speech to 900 people in a lecture hall decorated with pictures of former presidents.
“It sounds like he’s running,” said Ann Coil, a 70-year- old career consultant from Santa Ana, California, and a coordinator with the Tea Party.
Randall Hough, a 64-year-old retiree from Alhambra, California, who is active in Republican politics in Los Angeles County, said he was impressed with Christie’s “forthrightness.”
“It was a great diagnosis of the president’s ailings and it had guideposts as to the road ahead,” Hough said. “The only thing that was missing was the announcement of his candidacy.”
Christie, a former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, took office last year after defeating incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine amid voter dissatisfaction over the highest property taxes in the U.S. and the sluggish economy. He became a national Republican star after cutting $10 billion in projected spending on schools, pensions and towns in his first budget and requiring public workers to pay more for health benefits.
The governor’s invitation to speak at the Reagan Library put him in the company of other prominent conservatives who have spoken in its Perspectives in Leadership series, including former President George W. Bush, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly.
“We can’t wait another four years,” one guest said, imploring Christie to run for president by saying “your country needs you.” Her words generated a standing ovation. Christie responded without directly saying “no.”
“I hear exactly what you’re saying,” Christie said. “It’s extraordinarily flattering. It’s a great honor.”
The governor campaigned across the nation for his party’s candidates in the 2010 elections, when Republicans captured control of 11 state legislatures. Christie has presided over a 12-fold increase in out-of-state donations to his state party as he cashes in chits gained with the campaign stops.
Contributors to New Jersey’s Republican Party this year include New York billionaire John Catsimatidis, who gave $25,000 in June; Kenneth Langone, co-founder of Home Depot Inc., who gave $10,000 in June; and Paul Fireman, founder of Reebok International Ltd., with $25,000 in May, according to campaign finance records.
--Editors: Pete Young, Stacie Servetah
To contact the reporters on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at firstname.lastname@example.org; Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org