LIVINGSTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie formally launched his 2016 presidential run on Tuesday, vowing to bridge the partisan divide in Washington with blunt talk and a willingness to tackle tough issues.
Christie, once seen as a top 2016 White House contender but now viewed as a long shot, told the launch rally at his old high school that he would bring a dose of New Jersey straight talk to a dysfunctional political system.
“I mean what I say and I say what I mean, and that’s what America needs right now,” Christie said. “Truth and hard decisions today will lead to growth and opportunity tomorrow.”
The announcement gave Christie, whose approval ratings and political fortunes have sagged badly in the past year, a chance to reframe his battered image and reset the plummeting expectations for his campaign.
After the announcement, Christie, 52, will head out on the campaign trail to New Hampshire. He will hold the first of what is expected to be a crush of town hall sessions, where he will try to turn his reputation for plain-speaking into an asset.
“You’re going to get what I think whether you like it or not,” Christie said during his launch rally, which did not feature a prepared text or a teleprompter.
Christie was the 14th Republican to enter the race for the nomination ahead of the November 2016 election, and he faces a difficult challenge regaining his former status near the top of the heap.
With his image badly damaged by the “Bridgegate” lane closure scandal, his standing in national polls in the Republican race has dipped to the low single digits and his approval ratings in his home state have fallen to new lows.
Conservatives have been suspicious of his record of working at times with Democrats in Democratic-leaning New Jersey, and still resent his hug and warm words for President Barack Obama after superstorm Sandy in the final days of the 2012 presidential race.
But Christie has won praise for his ability to connect with voters in person, and he recently won a victory in a fight with unions over the state’s pension system.
He has cultivated his in-your-face image, once telling a heckler to “sit down and shut up” and getting into frequent shouting matches with New Jersey residents who challenge him.
Christie’s approval ratings began to fall during the controversy over lane closings ordered by his aides in September 2013 for the approach to the George Washington Bridge connecting New Jersey and New York City, the busiest bridge in the country. Some critics said they were political retribution against a Democratic New Jersey mayor who refused to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign.
Christie has disavowed knowledge of the closures.
A former ally of the governor pleaded guilty to federal charges in the scandal in May, and two others were indicted.