OCEAN CITY — Gov. Chris Christie received cheers and applause Wednesday afternoon as he raised support for his tax cut plan, roasted state Democrats and answered questions from a supportive crowd in the shade of Music Pier.
With crashing waves and colorful umbrellas behind him, the Republican repeated a call for Democrats to “get the hell off the beach and get back to the legislature” to enact his plan immediately.
Democrats have said it would be irresponsible to cut taxes before they find out what the state will collect in revenue, but Christie said Wednesday that he believes that is just delaying job creation.
“Business people are making decisions now on where they’re going to expand next year,” he said, making the case that lower taxes would be an incentive to move to New Jersey.
Christie made a short speech and answered questions from the crowd for more than a hour regarding a variety of topics, ranging from how he could reduce the state budget without pushing the burden to municipal government, to special education, to his stance on a law to strengthen punishments for sex offenders.
As tends to happen at most of his town hall meetings, Christie also fielded two questions about his national ambitions — one about whether there was any chance he would still run this year and another about running in 2016.
For the first, he repeated his support for presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and for the latter he said he hoped that Romney would be running for re-election in 2016. He said he would be open to a run four years from now if needed, but that he is thinking about his own re-election as governor before that.
Still, that was the topic on the minds of many at Wednesday’s event. There were many out-of-state visitors who said they read about Christie often or see him on TV.
“He’s so not a politician,” said Doreen Canton, of Cincinnati, who said she has read about him in Newsweek and The New York Times.
“I’d vote for him in a heartbeat,” said Denise Glynn, of Athens, Ga.
Jan and David Robbins said they also read about Christie at their home in Ohio because they have a second home in Ocean City.
“We know about taxes,” said Jan Robbins as she made a groaning face and pointed upward.
David French, of Ocean City, asked Christie to comment on the partisan gridlock in Washington, and the governor said he agreed that something needs to be done.
He also used the opportunity to talk about his bipartisan record, having supported the tax cut plan proposed by state Sen. Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem. He said they can cooperate because they see each other often, chatting regularly and going out to dinner together with their families.
“It’s harder to hate up close,” Christie said.
Many people in the crowd knew what he meant. Even those who disagree with his policies or simply dislike him said they were impressed with his genuine demeanor.
“You’re right, it’s much harder to hate up close, because I’m not feeling the hate right now,” said Tia McLaughlin, a school teacher from Allentown, Monmouth County, who still said she felt betrayed by Christie’s teacher pension reforms.
Christie apologized to McLaughlin in a rare serious and potentially confrontational moment that was otherwise filled with applause and punch lines.
“I’m sorry that I disappointed you in that,” he told her, saying that he felt teachers contributing more of their salaries to their pensions was the only way to preserve the system.
Still, not everyone in the crowd was affected by Christie’s charisma.
“The fact that he’s got this following I think is disturbing,” said Peg Kendrick, of Ocean City.
Kendrick’s friend, Judi Thomas, also of Ocean City, disagreed. She said she was a proud Christie supporter and considers him a thoughtful, truthful person.
“New Jersey has never had anybody like that,” she said.
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