On the Issue of Poverty, Chris Christie Hopes to Win Over Conservatives and Independents

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie turned his focus to poverty earlier this month after a GOP summit on the matter, telling CBS the issue “can be a difficult thing to talk about.”

He also criticized federal efforts to combat poverty as ineffective — a move experts say fits with his efforts to appeal to more conservative voters as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination.

Christie is trying to appeal first to conservative GOP primary voters,” said Daniel Bowen, associate professor of political science at The College of New Jersey. “So his language about poverty focuses on removing the obstacles placed by big government and by implementing prudent fiscal policy.”

If that strategy works and Christie wins the nomination, he might rediscover his moderate roots to appeal to a broader audience in the general election.

“There are really two versions of Chris Christie,” said Matthew Hale, associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University. “When he was first elected governor, and throughout his first term, he embraced a number of positions — immigration, quasi-reasonable gun control and choice — that were successful in bringing Democrats over to the GOP.”

Hale added that the governor likely will move back to the middle of the political spectrum if he gets the chance to run in the general election.

There are really two versions of Chris Christie.
Matthew Hale
But right now, Christie may be more interested in showing Republicans that he’s unafraid to reach out to voters who aren’t traditionally attracted to the party. In the interview with CBS, he discussed going into places such as African-American churches and small Hispanic businesses while campaigning in New Jersey.

“He was speaking … to the point that he has shown both that he was unafraid to campaign in these historically Democratic strongholds, and that he was successful in doing so,” said Fran Moran, professor of political science at New Jersey City University.

Though Christie has shown a willingness to venture into traditionally Democratic territory, he has maintained a conservative approach focused on “free market” solutions, Moran added — pointing to the governor’s support of the earned income tax credit as a way to address poverty.

And though Christie‘s comments are aimed at Republican primary voters — and, to a lesser extent, independent voters interested in a moderate GOP candidate — his record of outreach sets him apart from others in the party, according to Bowen.

Christie’s comments about listening to African-American and Hispanic leaders do reflect a difference between Christie and some of the other GOP presidential candidates,” Bowen said. “Christie received a far amount of positive attention early in his term as governor as being willing to speak to and listen to constituencies who do not typically support Republicans. For a party which receives little support from racial and ethnic minorities, such outreach can only be positive.”

Despite this, Christie has some catching up to do if he is to win the nomination, according to recent polls. A WBUR poll from Thursday showed him at 4 percent support in New Hampshire, while a poll from Monmouth University showed him pulling 3 percent of GOP support nationwide.

Photo Credit: Rich Koele / Shutterstock.com