New Jersey candidates bromance wins voters' hearts

Reuters

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK, Oct 11 (Reuters) - While partisan polarization hasbrought the U.S. government to a grinding halt, voters in NewJersey are throwing their support behind two politicians whowear bipartisan cooperation as a badge of honor and even claiman across-the-aisle friendship.

Republican Governor Chris Christie, a tough talking fiscalconservative, has a wide lead to win re-election in November,while polls show Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a charismatic liberalwho has been touted as the next Barack Obama, is expected to winan open U.S. Senate seat in next week's special election.

Stars of their respective parties nationally, their statusas local heroes has a lot to do with the perception that theyput partisan differences aside for the good of their state.

Christie's popularity soared after he joined forces withDemocratic president Barack Obama to speed his state's recoveryafter superstorm Sandy, while Booker frequently invokes hisclose working relationship with Christie.

"In some states, they'd just as well shut the governmentdown. New Jersey isn't one of those states," said DavidRedlawsk, a Rutgers University professor. "In a state like NewJersey, saying we want to work together is appealing."

Discussions are now under way in Washington to end an 11-daygovernment shutdown, triggered when Congress failed to reach aspending agreement over implementation of Obama's healthcareplan. New Jersey offers a stark contrast to the nationalpolarization.

Booker's first run for mayor was documented in theOscar-nominated film "Street Fight," and he is known for rubbingshoulders with celebrities. He points to his ability to workwell with Christie as a positive credential.

"The truth is he and I disagree on most everything..."Booker said in August, in response to charges by Democraticrivals that he was too close to the governor.

"But, despite our differences, I am the mayor of the largestcity in the state, I've got to work with the governor to getthings done," said Booker, who is running to fill the seat thatbecame available after the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg.

MAKING IT WORK

In his first term as governor, Christie, a former federalprosecutor, has built a national reputation for realizingconservative priorities - namely a state pension overhaul - withthe support of the Democrat-controlled state legislature.

His enormous popularity among New Jerseyans, now 63 percent,was cemented by his response to Sandy, which last year laidwaste to the shoreline, tearing up boardwalks and destroyinghomes.

National Republicans faulted Christie for boosting Obama'sre-election chances by his enthusiastic embrace of thepresident's storm response just days ahead of the election,while New Jersey voters applauded him for putting the state'sinterests ahead of politics.

Christie leads Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, two toone, a Quinnipiac poll found on Thursday.

"You wonder if bipartisanship works or not? Look aroundyou," Christie said at a recent event, echoing what has become afamiliar refrain at press conferences and on the campaign trail.

In the Senate race, Booker's opponent, Steve Lonegan, is anunabashed conservative who has repeatedly praised congressionalRepublicans for standing their ground against Obamacare. AQuinnipiac poll this week found Booker leading 53 to 41 percent.

Christie and Booker have worked together to bring businessesto Newark as well as expanding access to charter schools, whichare funded with tax dollars but privately run.

"On a different number of levels, we kind of understood eachother as outsiders and tried, as best we could, despite obviouspolitical and philosophical differences we have, to be able toforge a productive relationship," Christie told the New YorkTimes newspaper in July.

Last year, they teamed up to make a video poking fun at Christie's penchant for bombastic Town Hall speeches that becameinstant hits on YouTube and Booker's reputation as a prolificTwitter user who responds directly to emergencies he hears abouton social media.

"Clearly, they're grown up guys who can behave like grownups," said Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute.

Still, at least in Booker's case, Carroll said there mightbe an element of political pragmatism: "In New Jersey, it's nota good thing to be anti-Christie."

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