Gov. Chris Christie plans to make his long-awaited announcement that he’s running for the Republican nomination for president of the United States next Tuesday at the place where he was president 35 years ago — Livingston High School in northern New Jersey, sources familiar with his plans tell WNYC.
Christie was president of his class in junior high and high school for four years running before graduating in 1980. He played on his championship baseball team and maintains several friendships from his time there. In the decades before he became governor, he was in charge of organizing the class reunions.
Sources familiar with Christie’s plans spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to preempt the governor’s announcement.
Pundits have called Christie a potential presidential candidate since shortly after he was sworn in to his first of two terms as governor in 2010. He burst onto the scene with an aggressive speaking style that was captured in YouTube videos that went viral in conservative circles. He flirted with running in the 2012 election before becoming the first major politician to endorse Mitt Romney’s nomination. Christie was then on the short list to be Romney’s running mate.
A week before the 2012 presidential election Christie garnered hero status in New Jersey for leading the state through superstorm Sandy. Some conservatives still blame Christie’s praise of President Obama, who helped with storm aid, for leading to Romney’s loss. But in New Jersey Christie rode bipartisan goodwill over his handling of Sandy to a landslide 22-point reelection win the following year.
Polls in December 2013 showed Christie was the leading contender for the Republican nomination and within a few points of Hillary Clinton, the top Democrat. But the Bridgegate scandal broke the following month, hurting Christie’s popularity. David Wildstein, the former Christie appointee who pled guilty to closing the lanes at the George Washington Bridge to exact revenge on a political enemy, also attended Livingston High School, although the governor said they were merely acquaintances.
In addition to Bridgegate, poor economic news out of New Jersey and a crowded GOP field have since turned Christie into a second tier candidate. The latest Fox News poll had Christie polling at just 2 percent among Republicans nationally.
Christie started a PAC to raise funds for a potential candidacy earlier this year. He also has a so-called super PAC, which is staffed with close advisers and several political operatives who worked on the campaigns of former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia.
Christie has spent all or part of 218 days out of state since he was sworn in to a second term last year, mostly laying the groundwork to run for president. He has devoted a considerable amount of time in New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation primary. Christie is expected to hold dozens of town hall meetings in New Hampshire until the February primary in the hopes that his knowledge of the issues and off-the-cuff communication skills will woo voters. If he places in first or second place in that primary, his advisers believe that will give him momentum as he heads to contests in other states.
By announcing in his home state, Christie can reaffirm his commitment to New Jersey first even as he sets his sights on higher office. He has repeatedly said that the people of New Jersey would be the first to know about his plans.
Born in Newark and raised in suburban Livingston, Christie was a popular student who cultivated relationships with adults, his friends have said. When his baseball team’s season ended in a loss, he wrote a letter to the local paper to publicly thank his coaches. He was a pretty good catcher, and when he was benched from the varsity squad his senior year to make room for a phenom who had transferred to the school, Christie handled it graciously, friends remembered.
Christie ended up being named team captain.
“If you were to ask who in our class would end up being governor…most people would tell you Chris Christie,” Harlan Coben, the best-selling novelist who attended high school with the governor told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2013.
But he had a rebellious streak. After Christie and his buddies painted their graduation year on the school roof — visible to the football field — as per Livingston tradition, the school painted over the numbers. The new principal didn’t like the tradition, and he called Christie into his office.
“I would hope you would provide the leadership necessary to let your classmates know that this is not acceptable,” he told Christie.
“I said, ‘Sure,'” Christie remembered. “Then I went to my friends and said: ‘We gotta paint it this weekend.'”
That they did. They went up and repainted the numbers.
There was a populist streak, too. When the owner of the local diner kicked out his friends for not ordering food, he organized a boycott. He distributed leaflets and wrote an editorial in the local paper.
Students stayed away. Business was affected. A few weeks later Christie showed up at the diner and sat alone at the counter. The owner came over. “Chris, this has to stop,” the owner said.
A settlement was reached: At least two of the kids at the table would have to order — and the waitress would have to be tipped. Deal.
Christie had a commited girlfriend in high school, who later became a veterinarian. He then went off to the University of Delaware — where he became class president his senior year and met his future wife, Mary Pat Foster.
His yearbook quote at Livingston High? “Great Hopes make Great Men.”
Underneath, he wrote his top memory: “painting the roof, twice.”