I turned on the TV on a recent Saturday evening. On the screen was an actor playing Mitt Romney. Then another guy came on playing Chris Christie. The Christie character got all the laughs. He also got to nudge the Romney guy out of the way to announce "Live from New York! It's Saturday night!"
I've seen a lot of things in the 36 years I've been covering New Jersey politics. But this was a first. It's one thing for a Jersey pol to make a splash in Washington. But New York?
That never happens. It's not that New Yorkers dislike Jerseyans. They simply don't know we exist.
Except for our governor. Chris Christie's a star. When he held a press conference in early October to announce his decision on whether to run for the presidency in 2012, so many members of the media showed up that some TV cameramen were left out in the hall. When he announced he wasn't going to enter the race, the news made headlines all over America.
I was in that same room when the Christie phenomenon began. That was at a press conference in the spring of 2010. My fellow Star-Ledger columnist, Tom Moran, asked a seemingly innocuous question about whether the governor thought his "confrontational tone" was causing unneeded friction with the Democrats who control the legislature.
Christie responded, "If you think I'm confrontational now, you should see me when I get really pissed." He then went on a rant that was pretty funny, but no funnier than a lot of stuff you hear in the most humorous state in the Union.
Soon, however, a clip got posted on YouTube. That video went viral. All of a sudden, Chris Christie was the rising star of the Republican Party.
Who'd have expected that? Certainly not those of us who covered him in person. New Jersey does not have a major television station. We in the media saw Christie in person. And in person, he's just another pol. The star of his race for governor against incumbent Jon Corzine was a different Chris, Chris Daggett, a third-party candidate who won the debates and stole the headlines.
After Christie scraped out a narrow victory, he governed like the moderate he'd been since he first entered politics in the 1990s. He packed his cabinet with liberals and minorities and he took middle-of-the-road stances on policy questions.
But then he hit YouTube. Before long he was a hero to conservatives all over America. MSNBC's Joe Scarbrough even said of Christie, "he reduces me to a 14-year-old girl at a Beatles concert."
That's not the effect Christie has on me. I remember where I was when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964--crammed into a tiny Cape Cod in a suburb along the Jersey Shore with my four brothers. I thought John, Paul, George, and Ringo were great.
But not Chris Christie. My first impression of him in 2009 when he declared for governor was: Uh-oh, another slick lawyer from North Jersey wants to run for office.
Though he likes to stress his ties to the streets of gritty Newark, the actual streets where Christie grew up are in one of the most politically correct suburbs on the planet. Christie loves to tell audiences he was born in Newark. But he grew up in Livingston. It's just a few road miles from Newark, but it's a world away. Livingston is a pleasant suburb packed with old-money WASPs and highly educated Jews.
When young Chris was in high school, he famously knocked on the door of the most prominent resident of the town. That was Tom Kean, who won two terms as governor in the 1980s and who was an unabashed Rockefeller Republican. Kean gave New Jersey its first progressive income tax and used the money to shore up his support in the cities, winning re-election by a landslide.
Ever since, Republicans have been trying to repeat that feat, and Christie is no exception. He has always been a Kean Republican, and his biggest political ally is literally a Kean Republican--state Senate minority leader Tom Kean Jr. …