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Christie and Obama: Still a Study in Contrasts

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

The national attention on New Jersey’s governor has taken a new turn – now portraying him as the anti-Obama. In the past month, numerous commentators have found editorial fodder in contrasting Chris Christie’s governing style with the president’s, including this article in Newsweek.

Welcome to the club. Observers of the Garden State scene saw this coming a long time ago. Back in late January, Chris Christie had appeared on his first “Ask the Governor” program on NJ101.5 and Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union address. I wrote at the time, “Middle class voters want to know that their elected leaders truly appreciate the problems they face. Christie demonstrated that, while Obama fell short.”

That contrast in style has clearly grown over the past year, as the national media’s “discovery” of Chris Christie demonstrates. President Obama’s compromises on health care and now tax cuts are condemned as failures by his own partisans. However, when Governor Christie backed down on his demand for a hard constitutional property tax cap, disapproval was muted.

Poll after poll tells us that New Jerseyans are pre-occupied with their property taxes in a way that they have never been before. Whether he likes it or not, the voters will judge Chris Christie by what happens to their property taxes.

He understands that. This is why his style continues to work in his favor. Getting property taxes under control is a long-haul project. The governor needs to convey the sense that he is as frustrated as we are about the process. His town hall meetings and designed-for-YouTube “rants” keep that message in the air.

Unlike the president, the governor is willing to draw a line in the sand. His property tax “toolkit” is expected to be taken up by the legislature next week during their last scheduled voting session of the year. Considering the fact that the governor and legislative leaders have not agreed on the terms, I wouldn’t be surprised if the legislature passes a package of bills on Monday only to have it vetoed, followed by the governor calling them into special session through the holidays.

All this makes great political theater and helps keeps some of the more doubting members of the public on his side. But there comes a time when you have to deliver results.

The Obama presidency has shown that you can succeed in passing difficult policies but look like a failure doing it. However, the reverse is not necessarily true. You cannot fail to enact key public demands and make it look like a success by scoring style points. Especially when we’re talking about New Jersey property taxes.