When Gov. Chris Christie travels the country campaigning for candidates, he’s usually the warm-up act at rallies — he bashes the opponent, rallies the faithful, and then introduces the candidate.
In Pennsylvania on Thursday, the script was flipped.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who is down by double digits in a reelection fight that makes him the most embattled governor in the country, spoke first Thursday at a rally that filled about half of a medium-sized room at the Valley Forge Military Academy in the Philadelphia suburbs. Corbett was received by polite applause before delivering a stump speech that ended with him introducing Christie. That prompted the loudest cheers of the afternoon.
In other words, Christie is popular here, and the implications of that could determine the next inhabitant of the White House. Here’s why: Certain states decide presidential elections these days, and within those states, certain regions pull the states one way or another. Pennsylvania is such a state and the counties around Philadelphia are such a region. With lots of delegates, Pennsylvania could be Christie’s ace in the hole against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (presuming, ahem, that they both run).
“We’re actually here for Chris Christie,” said Greg Arnoldy, 32, a teacher from suburban Delaware County who was attending his first Corbett rally of the election season. “Being a Pennsylvania resident, it’s important that we get out there and support Chris Christie because we’ve been exposed to him for both of his two terms, being in the Philadelphia media market. So we’re really excited he’s going to be making a possible campaign run in 2016.”
Arnoldy hit on a key point. Voters in the Philadelphia region know Christie better than any other Americans beyond New Jersey do, because there is so much South Jersey news in the Philadelphia media market, which reaches almost half of the state’s population. One poll showed Christie with better name ID than Corbett in the Philadelphia region.
And Christie has other connections here, too. His wife was born in the Philadelphia suburbs and grew up in a house where his mother-in-law still resides. Seven of Mary Pat Christie’s 10 siblings still live around Philly, in fact — a point Christie was sure to make Thursday. When he told the crowd the names of the schools that Mary Pat graduated from, the gathered Republicans murmured with familiar approval.
The Christie in-laws would be voting for Corbett, he said. And then he made a New Jersey corruption joke: “If they were from New Jersey, they’d vote for him twice.”
As Christie warned the Republicans that they better work hard to reelect Corbett, Christie reminded them that he was one of them: “I live pretty close to here. I read your newspapers every day. I watch your news every day. I know what’s going on. So, I’m watching you.”
He added: “I’m a little pushy. I’m from Jersey.”
The crowd loved the Jersey guy shtick. They know Jersey, just as they know Christie. Voters in these all-important counties that ring Philadelphia are Christie-type folks — moderate and ideologically similar to the Reagan Democrats of the 1980s. They spend their summers at the Jersey Shore. And more so than New York and North Jersey, there’s a tight regional cultural identity that extends from Philly to South Jersey.
Christie’s ability to win Pennsylvania is one of his selling points to Republican presidential donors and voters who want a candidate who can end the Republicans’ losing streak. The establishment wants a candidate who can pick off a state or two that President Obama won.
But just after Christie got done talking about his Pennsylvania relatives on Thursday, none other than Hillary Clinton was doing some pandering of her own on a stage in Philadelphia, where she was campaigning for Corbett’s challenger, Tom Wolf.
Her son-in-law, she noted, grew up here. And her newborn granddaughter Charlotte? She has already watched a Philadelphia Eagles game.