NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR Chris Christie wasn't supposed to become a hero for the Right. He wouldn't even accept the label "conservative" during his campaign.
He was a washed-up local pol turned lobbyist but with enough connections to become George W. Bush's top attorney in Jersey. Christie made some headlines going after political corruption; to no one's surprise, prosecutable officials are more common than tollbooths in New Jersey. Then he beat an incumbent governor in a terrible year for incumbents. So what? Christie was an overweight, less heroic, bridge-and-tunnel version of Rudy Giuliani.
But soon videos of his confrontations with teachers, unions, and reporters began making their way onto YouTube, and Christie became a conservative sensation. The most recent has him calling the state's powerful teachers' union a bully, with children and taxpayers as its victims. "You punch them? I punch you," Christie threatens, pointing his finger. Former Bush spokesman Ed Gillespie says Christie's fight to tame the public-sector union "may be the most important public-policy debate in the country right now."
A tough, articulate, budget-cutting governor of a Blue State, Christie is suddenly batting down questions about whether he will run for president in 2012. But between now and a dreamed-of confrontation with Barack Obama, Christie has bloody battles to fight in Trenton with a heavily Democratic legislature and an aggressively liberal Supreme Court.
Christie, 47, was born into what he calls a "loud" home, with an Irish father and a Sicilian mother. The combination draws knowing laughter when he mentions it and is taken as a full explanation for his combative style. Raised in the multi-ethnic Ironbound neighborhood in Newark's East Ward, he was just 5 when the riots tore his city apart and started its long decline.
Except for his time at the University of Delaware, where he was class president, Christie has lived in New Jersey all of his life. He obtained his J.D. at Seton Hall University in 1987. He married Mary Pat Foster, and they lived in a one-room apartment in Summit, New Jersey while he pursued a career in corporate law at Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci and she sought one in investment banking, eventually building her profile at Cantor Fitzgerald.
Success in politics eluded Christie early in his career. He began forging connections and learning the political contours of New Jersey while working with his boss, Bill Palatucci, for George H.W. Bush's unsuccessful 1992 re-election bid. In 1993, he attempted to run for state Senate against then Majority Leader John Dorsey. His campaign failed to get enough signatures, and Christie was tossed from the ballot. The next year, he ran for Morris County freeholder, winning on his promise to end no-bid contracting. But even this victory had a sour aftertaste. His defeated opponent sued him for defamation. Christie had falsely said that his challenger was under investigation, and he settled out of court.
Christie reformed the bid process and banned gifts from contractors to public officeholders--just the sort of good government initiatives Republicans use to distinguish themselves in this Democratic-dominated state. For good measure, he fired an architect building the local jail on a no-bid contract, saving the county $17 million. Naturally the dismissed architect sued for libel.
But Christie's ambition soon got the best of him. Three months into his term as freeholder, he decided to run for state assembly, and voters handed him a punishing loss. A negative mailer depicted him in diapers. In 1997, he came in last in his re-election bid for freeholder. And in what has become standard procedure in Jersey politics, Christie sued one of the victors, John Murphy, for defamation. Murphy reported later that the settlement proceedings, which were negotiated one-on-one with Christie, were "the beginning of somewhat of a friendship. …