A Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday paints a remarkable picture of what a Republican can accomplish in unfriendly political territory.
In this case, the pol is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has a following like no other elected official in the country.
The poll tells us:
• “Gov. Christie tops Sen. Buono 61 – 29 percent, virtually unchanged from the results of a June 10 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University.”
• “In today’s survey, Christie leads 59 – 30 percent among women, 64 – 28 percent among men, 93 – 2 percent among Republicans and 67 – 24 percent among independent voters. Buono takes Democrats 55 – 35 percent.”
• “New Jersey voters give Christie a 68 – 26 percent job approval rating, keeping him number one in job approval among the governors in the nine states surveyed by Quinnipiac University.”
Even more remarkable is a Republican who can garner 59 percent or more among all income groups, 35 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of African Americans.
Considering how ferociously he has been attacked by the far right for such offenses as greeting the president during a natural disaster, the poll numbers also tell us something about the judgment of these self-appointed representatives of the conservative movement. He’s doing so well and they deplore him. So who should other Republicans listen to? It seems like a no-brainer.
His staff points to a slew of endorsements from 32 elected Democrats, 24 building trade unions, 22 African American clergy and multiple Hispanic groups and leaders. But these also are the result, not the cause of, his high-flying favorable ratings. It all goes back to his ability to connect with voters across the political spectrum.
How has Christie done it? First, he has pounded away at the need to get things done across party lines. He has no other choice in a state like New Jersey, which is heavily Democratic and in which the Democrats control both houses of the state legislature, but his constant refrain is backed up by a term in which he balanced budgets, cut taxes, reformed entitlements, made criminal justice improvements and, of course, spearheaded the Sandy recovery. Moreover, he explains what he is doing in concrete terms, not characterizing it as “conservative” or “free-market capitalism.” Republicans nationally spend far too much time talking about their own motivations for doing things rather than explaining what they are doing and why it benefits voters.
This is not a matter of moderating ideology (Christie is pro-life, opposed to tax increases and hostile to the teachers union), but of creating a tough-minded message, a track record of results and a unique personal connection with voters. One can imagine, if Christie runs in 2016, him fending off accusations of insufficient conservatism with a reminder of how much more he’s accomplished in Trenton than self-righteous conservatives have in D.C.
Christie’s success is a reminder that authenticity and a sense that someone “cares about people like them” are still critical for office-seekers. Voters remain fixated on a simple question: What have you done for me lately? Pols who ignore this and prefer to tout their own ideological purity are not going to have the appeal of a Chris Christie. It’s something to keep in mind for Republicans who think the key to success is to pander to a narrow segment of their right-wing audience.