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'Truth' teller Chris Christie launches White House bid

AFP , Tuesday 30 Jun 2015
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pauses while speaking to supporters during an event announcing he will seek the Republican nomination for president at Livingston High School in Livingston, N.J. Tuesday, June 30, 2015 (Photo: AP)
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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie launched his presidential campaign on Tuesday, seeking respect rather than love from Americans and promising to speak bluntly with voters as he battles several rivals for the Republican nomination.

The bombastic politician said his intent was to present voters with a dose of "truth about the problems we have" in the United States when he hits the campaign trail.

"I don't seek the presidency for any other reason than because I believe in my heart that I am ready to work with you to restore America to its rightful place in the world, and to restore the American dream," Christie told a raucous crowd in the suburban township of Livingston where he grew up.

Christie jumps into a field of 14 major Republicans, with two more expected to enter the fray in July, as the GOP looks to find the right candidate to counter 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

The governor -- who spoke without teleprompters in the gymnasium of his high school alma mater, his wife and children at his side -- brashly asserted he was not running to be America's popular "prom king" but to restore US leadership.

"If we're going to lead, we have to stop worrying about being loved and start caring about being respected again, both at home and around the world," Christie said.

"There is one thing you will know for sure: I mean what I say and I say what I mean, and that's what America needs right now."

Seeking to overcome a political scandal that rocked his reputation, Christie polls in the lower half of the Republican field, and by all accounts will have an uphill climb against his rivals.

New Jersey residents disapprove of Christie's job performance by 56 to 38 percent, "his lowest approval rating ever," Quinnipiac University Poll's Maurice Carroll said.

It was easier to win over voters when the governor ran for re-election in 2013.

The 52-year-old father of four has a larger-than-life personality that endeared him to voters, especially when he fiercely stood up for residents affected by Hurricane Sandy, which caused unprecedented damage in New Jersey in 2012.

After striding along the ravaged coastline with Democratic President Barack Obama and chiding Republicans in Congress for delaying help for Sandy victims, the pragmatic Christie romped to re-election in the largely Democratic state.

Whispers of "White House 2016" followed, with Republican 2012 nominee Mitt Romney saying Christie could "easily become our nominee and save our party."

That was before the emergence of a far deeper 2016 field than Romney faced. It includes former Florida governor Jeb Bush; US Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul; and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, all of whom poll higher than Christie.

On Tuesday, Christie blasted Republicans and Democrats alike for Washington gridlock.

"Both parties have failed our country," he said. "Both parties have stood in the corner and held their breath and waited to get their own way."

He took square aim at Obama for what he described as "feckless" foreign policy, and warned that "we better not turn it over to his second mate Hillary Clinton."

Christie's already-abrasive image suffered in late 2013 after revelations emerged that senior aides ordered the closure of some lanes of the George Washington Bridge, a vital conduit between New York and New Jersey.

"Bridgegate" was interpreted by some as a reprisal against a local mayor who declined to endorse Christie for re-election.

Christie's antagonistic style has been on display for years, with videos posted on YouTube that show him telling people to "shut up" or calling constituents "numbnuts."

While Christie pointed to the difficult decisions he made to bring the state back from the brink of "economic calamity," detractors highlighted contentious points in his record including education policy.

"He is the biggest bully," Sandra Hanrahan, a teacher among more than 100 protesters outside Christie's launch, told AFP, citing the governor's slashing of pension fund payments.

"He says there have to be shared sacrifices but not for the rich people. He protects them."

Supporter Ron Negra said he appreciated hearing Christie reach out to all, regardless of party, race or economic status.

"And he tells it like it is, which is what I like," Negra said.

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