GOP leader campaigns with Christie in NJ

July 13, 2009 4:37:35 PM PDT
The outcome of the New Jersey governor's race is important nationally and will be a bellwether for the Republican Party, the national GOP leader said as he campaigned with the party's nominee Monday. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called candidate Chris Christie "the real deal" at a campaign stop in Pitman before jokingly warning him, "don't screw it up," referring to the November election against Gov. Jon Corzine. Christie maintains a modest lead in early polls.

Corzine, a Democrat, is hoping President Barack Obama planned visit on Thursday will boost his campaign.

Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, told about 100 supporters that Christie represents the GOP's best hope for recapturing the New Jersey governor's office, which Democrats have held since 2002.

"He plays across this state unlike any Republican in the last 10 or 12 years," Steele said. "He connects with real people because he's a real guy who has his finger not just on the pulse of what's going on, but lives it, works it, revels in it, and comes up with solutions to help improve it."

Steele and Christie were scheduled at three public events in South Jersey, as well as private meetings with local GOP candidates.

A handful of Rowan University students protested at the Pitman event, including Sarah Jane Donofrio, a student Democratic leader.

"I don't think he's right for New Jersey," she said of Christie. "There are a lot of things people don't know about him - a lot of corruption."

Christie, a publicly funded candidate who is at a financial disadvantage against the privately funded and wealthier Corzine, said he would welcome funding help from national Republicans. Former Houses Speaker Newt Gingrich is scheduled to headline a $5,000 person fundraiser later this month at a home in Morris County.

Unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan used Steele's visit to push his conservative agenda, releasing an e-mail complaining that the New Jersey party has failed to adopt the national Republican platform or condemn Corzine's budget. Following his loss to the more moderate Christie in the GOP primary, Lonegan said he would support the party's nominee while continuing to push the party to the right.

"I don't think Steve really means that," Christie said. "He probably just had a bad morning."

Lonegan's e-mail, sent to supporters and the press, calls New Jersey's GOP establishment "hollow men" who lack principles.

New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states with governor's races in November.

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