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LIVINGSTON, NJ–Governor Chris Christie officially announced June 30 something that many people had already assumed: that he would be running for President in the 2016 Republican primary election.
Christie made the announcement with a speech at his alma mater, Livingston High School.
During his speech Christie, a 52-year-old former federal prosecutor who was first elected Governor in 2009, promised to run a campaign without spin, pandering or “focus group tested answers.”
“You're going to get what I think, whether you like it or not, and whether it makes you cringe every once in a while or not,” he said as his supporters held up banners with the slogan “Telling It Like Is.”
"The truth will set you free," Christie said.
While the governor’s supporters cheered him on inside the high school, a score of protesters wearing red – including teachers, environmentalists, and Hurricane-Sandy victims – rallied against him outside.
“He destroyed NJ, he’ll destroy USA,” read one protest sign. “You will not be my president,” read another.
Among their rallying cries were, “Shame on you!” and “Christie must be stopped!” Many of the signs they held also called Christie a "liar" or called on him to resign.
An overwhelming number of New Jerseyans, and some state legislators, agree that Christie ought to resign his Governor job before campaigning for higher office.
In the week after declaring his candidacy, Christie has traveled to New Hampshire, Maine, and Idaho, spending little time in New Jersey and costing taxpayers thousands of dollars in travel expenses for the State Police unit that protects him.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents to a Monmouth University telephone poll, and more than 90% of respondents to an online poll on NJ.com, said Christie should resign as Governor in light of his national aspirations.
Another recent poll by the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics in New Brunswick showed that 54% of New Jersey voters polled disapprove of the overall job the governor is doing, compared to 41% who approve of his performance.
State Senators Raymond Lesniak and Loretta Weinberg announced plans to introduce a bill that would require Christie, and any future Governors, to resign from their dayjob if they want to seek the nation's highest office.
Similar laws are on the books in five other states, according to Weinberg.
Returning to the school where he served as class president, Christie said he used his power to hold both major parties accountable for gridlock in the federal government, and that strong leadership, decisiveness, and the ability to compromise were key to moving the country forward.
"We need to have strength and decision-making and authority back in the Oval Office. And that is why today I am proud to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination for president of the United States of America," Christie said as thousands in the school gymnasium applauded.
"When I became governor six years ago, we had a state that was in economic calamity," Christie said. "An $11 billion deficit on a $29 billion budget. A state that had taxes and fees raised on it 115 times in the 8 years before I became governor."
"And so we rolled up our sleeves and we went to work, and we balanced six budgets in a row," Christie continued. "We've refused to raise taxes on the people of this state for six years."
But it was a very different scene outside the school.
Since 9am, the lawn outside Livingston High School had been dominated by Christie's opponents, who gathered around an large inflatable camel with the phrase "It's Hump Day" emblazoned on it.
There, a rendition of Bruce Springteen's “Born in the USA” was sung with the lyrics, “Chris Christie is wrong for the USA.”
One protester asked the crowd through a megaphone, “Christie for President?,” with others shouting back, “Hell no!”
Another protester played familiar tunes on his bagpipes with a placard attached to it reading, “Time to pay the piper, fund the pension now!”
Protesters also opposed Christie’s environmental record, focused largely on the controversial settlement between the state government and oil giant ExxonMobil.
Environmentalists also slammed Christie for failing to protect the state from the negative affects of fracking drilling, and for ignoring climate change, while rolling back standards intended to protect the state's waterways and drinking water.
But the largest group of protesters were public school teachers, most of whom were on summer vacation.
“I came out today because Christie is not a supporter of teachers and education,” Joy Burnett, a West Orange teacher, told New Brunswick Today. “I’m afraid that he’ll do for the country what he’s done for the state, pressuring the poor, and helping the rich off the backs of the working class.”
Among the groups represented at the protests outside the high school were New Jersey Citizen Action (NJCA), the Sierra Club, New Jersey Working Families Alliance, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and a number of unions representing workers in the public school system.
NJCA Program Director Ann Vardeman said their organization is mostly troubled with Christie’s failure to protect the environment, fund the pensions of state workers, reject transit hikes, bolster job growth, support Hurricane Sandy victims, and make the state’s tax code fair for middle income and poor people.
But Christie appeared not to let his critics dampen the campaign launch, which attracted the attention of dozens of television stations and other media outlets.
As Bon Jovi's "We Weren't Born To Follow" blared from speakers, Christie walked out on stage joined by his wife Mary Pat, and children Andrew, Sarah, Patrick, and Bridget.
During his thirty-minute speech, Christie chided President Barack Obama for recently saying “the world respects America more because of his leadership."
"This convinces me–It is the final confirmation–that president Obama lives in his own world, not in our world," Christie said. He also warned voters against turning over the country to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Christie joins a crowded field of more than a dozen candidates seeking to replace Obama in the White House.
Christie will first have to overcome at least thirteen fellow Republicans in the race including Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. If he prevails in the Republican primary, Christie would face off with a Democrat in November 2016, most likely Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Martin O'Malley.
If elected, Christie would become the first US President to hail from New Jersey since Woodrow Wilson left office in 1921.
During his second term Christie, who is now the 14th Republican presidential candidate to throw his hat in the race, has also seen a decline in popularity due to the scandal surrounding the purposeful creation of a traffic jam in Fort Lee due to the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
However during his speech, Christie showed no signs of concern as he paused before looking around to the crowd to deliver his final words.
"We are going to win this election and I love each and every one of you," he said, before leaving the stage.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.