LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP, N.J. — There was a faint ripple of applause as Chris Christie’s black SUV pulled up to the waterfront gazebo, and it was all but drowned out by a loudspeaker blaring the Beach Boys.
The turnout was modest as well, unless you counted the 200 or so grim-faced police officers and firefighters from across the state, who far outnumbered the locals.
The town hall meeting Tuesday was the New Jersey governor’s first stop on what is being billed as a summertime “No Pain No Gain” tour of shore towns. It is meant to prepare Garden State voters for what Christie warns are going to be agonizing fiscal choices, starting this fall.
“Promises were made that can’t be kept,” Christie said of the state’s public-employee pension system. “Welcome to the real world, folks.”
What happens in New Jersey over the coming months could do more to determine Christie’s chances of winning the 2016 GOP presidential nomination than anything he does on his closely watched early forays into Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
That is because the biggest prerequisite for a sitting governor to run for president is a success story in his home state. And months after being reelected in a landslide, Christie — who at his town halls used to stand in front of a banner touting the “Jersey comeback” — does not have a rosy one to tell.
New Jersey was shocked in April by an $807 million budget gap that Christie’s administration did not foresee. The governor now says he will have to miss a couple of yearly installments against the state’s unfunded pension liability — payments that were part of a law he signed in 2011 and touted as one of his greatest achievements.
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