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Chris Christie has many of the same liabilities as Perry, Romney

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We’re already learning about several of the ways in which Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn’t as conservative as some believed. And Mitt Romney, of course, has his own demons.

When it comes to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, though, there is arguably even more for his opponents to mine — if Christie is actually interested in running for president, that is.

If Christie does have plans to run for president, he could make that clear during a speech tonight at the Reagan library in California. The high-profile speech is seen as an opportunity for Christie to take a step forward in the race, even if he doesn't say whether he will run.

As we noted in April, Christie’s national reputation as a budget-cutting hero of the right is somewhat at odds with his persona in New Jersey and his record.

And in fact, he’s got many of the same liabilities that Perry and Romney have been trying to tag each other with in recent debates and on the campaign trail.

To wit:

* Christie has praised President Obama’s efforts on education reform and even suggested in February that he wouldn’t rule out voting for the president. “Overall, I didn’t vote for him, and I doubt I’ll vote for him next time,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”.

Christie said that he doubts that he’d vote for Obama? That’s probably not close to good enough for the conservative base. Perry has been trying to tag Romney as a supporter of Obama’s “Race to the Top” legislation that awards federal grants to education innovators; well, Christie has called Obama an ally on education and applied for Race to the Top funds.

* Despite backing out of a regional cap-and-trade arrangement and supporting a more market-based approach (popular with conservatives), Christie said last month that he believes climate change is real. He said at the time, “when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.”

* As New York Magazine noted on Tuesday, Christie has expressed support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and said in 2008 that “being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime.” Ouch. Perry’s effort to give in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants has been the big story in recent debates; imagine Christie defending his record on the issue.

* While Christie has said he wouldn’t sign a same-sex marriage bill, he has expressed support for moving towards civil unions. The only major GOP presidential candidate to take that view is former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who hasn’t gotten very far with the base, to say the least. Perry has also been attacked for saying that he was okay with New York’s gay marriage law, because it was a state-based law (he later backed off that position).

* Like Romney, Christie used to favor abortion rights, changing his mind when his wife was pregnant with their child in the 1990s. While not a disqualifier for most social conservatives, it could hurt in a state like Iowa.

* While Christie has made a name for himself by fighting the teachers’ unions, and while he praised Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) budget-cutting efforts, he declined to endorse Walker’s plan to rein in the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions. “I love collective bargaining,” Christie said in March.

Indeed, while Christie is seen as a conservative hero nationally, a new poll shows nearly one-quarter of Republicans in New Jersey rate his job performance as either “fair” or “poor,” and 16 percent disapprove when asked a straight approve-disapprove question.

Political observers say that if Christie ran for president, the scrutiny of his record would be intense.

“It is an open question of how well he’d do in the national GOP primaries after the first few weeks of excitement,” said one prominent GOP strategist unaligned in the current presidential race. “I think he could hit rough sledding.”

But others said the Perry comparison isn’t exactly apt, noting that Christie’s prosecutorial experience would make him a formidable debater.

“Because he’s been in office so little time, (critics) won’t find that much to dislike,” said one GOP consultant. “And his rhetorical ability to defend his actions is vastly better than Perry’s, so he could probably skate past some policy misdeeds.”

Those close to Christie, while saying he’s still not running for president, nonetheless paint a picture of a GOP primary electorate hungry for a guy who doesn’t apologize for who he is.

“People are no longer looking for someone who checks every single conservative box, but someone who is authentic, says what he believes and means what he says,” said a source close to Christie. “And he actually has a fiscally-conservative record to back it up. And lots of people find it refreshing for an elected official who doesn’t contort himself in an attempt to be all things to all people.”

Whatever Christie’s conservative apostasies, you can’t argue that he does check one big box for Republicans right now – fiscal conservatism.

But it’s also become clear that many of the attacks in the presidential race so far could find a welcome target in Christie. His ability to parry them and still win over some very finnicky conservative voters remains a very big question, no matter his debate savvy.

And given the status with which he would enter the race, it would certainly be a barrage from day one.

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