Chris Christie, Pete Bachella

Pete Bachella, center left, of Ringwood displays his New Jersey map tattoo to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during a visit to the Seaside Park boardwalk two days after a massive fire burn a large portion of the boardwalk in Seaside Park.

New Jersey's governor is a top Republican fundraiser, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world. Just don't expect to run into Gov. Chris Christie shaking hands outside the local Wawa.

As the state's legislative campaigns have ramped up over the past six months, Christie's public events in New Jersey have differed from traditional campaign events with fellow Republicans, instead focusing on larger issues such as Sandy recovery.

"I don't know what the strategy is, but his absence on the trail on behalf of Republican legislative candidates is certainly noticeable," said Carl Golden, a press secretary to two previous Republican governors and current GOP strategist.

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The governor has made nine visits to the region since early April, according to published reports and the governor's public schedule. Legislative candidates also have been included in the events, but the focus has been squarely on Christie.

Local visits included a handful of stops in late May to highlight the Jersey Shore's Hurricane Sandy recovery. He complemented these with another shore tour in late August.

The governor visited Wildwood twice in June to address the American Legion's and the Veterans of Foreign Wars' separate state conventions.

His most recent trip was Sept. 4, when he and Education Commissioner Chris Cerf stopped by the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Beach Haven School in Beach Haven.

They celebrated the reopening of the building at the start of the school year.

His rival in the Nov. 5 election, Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono, also has made nine visits. These include five union conferences between Atlantic City and Cape May, a Hammonton fundraiser, and several events with fellow Democrat state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic. Whelan faces Republican Atlantic County Sheriff Frank X. Balles in the state Senate election.

Golden said Christie's absence on the campaign trail is understandable. The current legislative district map generally favors incumbents, leaving few competitive races.

Statewide polls have suggested Christie, if he defeats Buono this fall, may not drag in a Republican legislative majority behind him. A late-September Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that half of those polled wanted Democrats to keep legislative control, while 38 percent said Republicans should run the Senate and General Assembly.

A subsequent poll by Quinnipiac University found only about 22 percent of those polled said the governor's support for a candidate would influence their choice in the voting booth. Another 60 percent said it wouldn't matter.

However, polls last month by The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey showed the race for General Assembly in the 1st and 2nd Legislative Districts remains close, even if the incumbent Democratic senators had double-digit leads.

Republican Assemblymen John Amodeo and Chris Brown had six- and four-point leads over Democratic challengers Vince Mazzeo and Nick Russo in the 2nd District, which includes most of Atlantic County.

In the 1st District, which includes all of Cape May County, most of Cumberland and parts of Atlantic County, incumbent Democratic Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Bob Andrzejczak had seven- and four-point leads over Republican challengers Sam Fiocchi and Kristine Gabor.

Chris Russell, a Republican consultant in the 1st District, downplayed the governor's visits and said Republican candidates are ready to work with Christie from day one. Cindy Balles, Frank Balles's wife and campaign manager, did not return calls seeking comment.

Christie also may be shying away from this region because Democratic South Jersey legislators have been a key part of the bi-partisan cooperation that the governor touts and would be expected to be a part of any national campaign.

South Jersey Democrats in the first three districts provided votes in 2010 to cap local property tax growth at 2 percent. The following year, all of these, minus Albano, voted to reform pension and health benefits.

Kevin Roberts, Christie's campaign spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Justin L. Richards, the executive director of the Republican's Senate campaign office, did not want to comment on the governor's scheduling.

For now, Golden said Christie is obviously focusing on his own campaign, with the goal of compiling a double-digit plurality, which would help with any national ambitions.

Still, Golden said, "You would think for someone, whose own race he's ahead by 20-plus points, that it would free him up to do things for other legislative candidates."

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Follow Derek Harper on Twitter @dnharper

Christie in South Jersey

Gov. Chris Christie has made a number of visits to the region over the past six months, but has done little campaigning for legislative candidates. Following is a list of his appearnaces:

April 30: Held a town-hall meeting at the St. Francis of Assisi Community Center in Long Beach Township.

May 17: Discovery Communications/Habitat for Humanity volunteer meet and greet and "home rebuilding tour."

May 25: Visits Scojo's Restaurant in Surf City, and the boardwalks of Ocean City and Wildwood, as part of a pre-Memorial Day shore reopening tour.

June 13: Addresses American Legion convention in Wildwood.

June 19: Addresses New Jersey Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Wildwood

Aug. 27: Visits Morey's Piers in North Wildwood as part of his late-summer Jersey Shore tour.

Aug. 28: Visits the Cape May Mall in Cape May, as part of his Shore Tour.

Aug. 29: Visits Bay Village in Beach Haven as part of a Shore Tour.

Sept. 4: Visits the Sandy-damaged Beach Haven School on Long Beach Island with Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

Source: Governor's daily schedule, published reports

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