Chris Christie makes a pitch that he can lead his party to victory down the political path blazed by Ronald Reagan

In addition to his unwavering attacks against Donald Trump, one of the refrains former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie used to distinguish himself in last Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate was his track record in winning over Democratic voters:

“Now I was elected as a conservative Republican in a blue state with 61 percent of the vote, with a Democratic legislature against me the entire time.”

“I’m the only one on this stage who has ever beaten a Democratic incumbent in an election. I did it in a deep blue state being outspent three to one.”

Christie went on to compare himself to another Republican (Ronald Reagan) who also came from a purportedly blue state to win the presidency.

“Beating a Democratic incumbent is not easy. The last Democratic incumbent president who was defeated was Jimmy Carter. And he was defeated by a conservative governor from a blue state who knew how to get results, who stood for the truth, who cared about accountability, and stood strong and hard against waste.“

To be sure, California is one of the bluest states in the nation today – Democrats have won 38 consecutive statewide races since 2008, the largest streak in the country. [Republicans last won the governorship (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and office of Insurance Commissioner (Steve Poizner) in 2006].

California Democrats also hold 40 of 52 U.S. House seats (77 percent), 32 of 40 State Senate seats (80 percent), and 62 of 80 State Assembly seats (78 percent).

But the California electoral landscape where Ronald Reagan called home in 1980 when he first won the presidency was much more competitive for the GOP than it is today.

For starters, Republican presidential nominees had carried California during six of the last seven cycles including three in a row after Gerald Ford’s victory in 1976. [The GOP would go on to win California in nine of 10 cycles through George H.W. Bush in 1988].

In 1980, Republicans also held one of California’s two U.S. Senate seats (Samuel Hayakawa) plus 40 percent of U.S. House seats (17 of 43), 40 percent of the State Senate (16 of 40), and 38 percent of State Assembly seats (30 of 80) – all post-Watergate highs for the party.

In addition, Republicans occupied two of California’s six state government offices – Lieutenant Governor (Mike Curb) and Attorney General (George Deukmejian).

In truth, Republicans were in a similar position in New Jersey when Christie unseated Democratic Governor Jon Corzine in 2009.

The New Jersey GOP held five of 13 U.S. House seats (38 percent), 17 of 40 State Senate seats (43 percent), and 32 of 80 State Assembly seats (40 percent).

Democrats had won the last five presidential elections in New Jersey and 11 consecutive U.S. Senate races.

Although it could be argued the GOP seems to resemble Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party less and less each cycle, Christie was not the only candidate to make a reference to the 40th U.S. President during the debate in Milwaukee.

Mike Pence did so twice:

“I put my left hand on Ronald Reagan’s Bible, I raised my right hand. And I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

“The Reagan Doctrine years ago made it clear, we said, if you’re willing to fight the communists on your soil, we’ll give you the means to fight them there.”

Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson did once:

“A president’s number one responsibility is to bring out the best of our people. That’s what Ronald Reagan did.”

As did Vivek Ramaswamy:

“And I think I’m the only candidate in this race, young or old, black or white, to bring all of those voters along to deliver a Reagan 1980 Revolution.”

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and Pence also each recited Reagan’s “peace through strength” doctrine one time.

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  1. Cecil Crusher on August 27, 2023 at 1:50 pm

    “…38% of state assembly seats (30 of 50)…” HUH??

    In fact, the “blue” and “red” states first became public shorthand with the 2000 presidential election, when the major television news outlets – broadcast and basic cable – all AGREED on the colour designation for each major party (prior to it, each entity assigned different colours for each party for its quadrennial election night presentations).

    To the chagrin or dismay of many a fervent MAGA disciple, former Governor Christie seems poised to qualify for the late September debate despite his ‘fringe’ position regarding his erstwhile ally – at least he has far better odds than fellow gubernatorial peers Hutchinson (AR) and Burgum (ND).

  2. John Chessant on August 28, 2023 at 1:59 am

    Christie’s “I’m the only one on this stage who has ever beaten a Democratic incumbent in an election” is reminiscent of Elizabeth Warren’s line in a 2020 Democratic debate where she said “The only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican anytime in the past 30 years is me”.

    The “30 years” stipulation was necessary, since Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were among her competitors on the stage: Biden had defeated incumbent Sen. J. Caleb Boggs in 1972, and Sanders had defeated incumbent Rep. Peter Plympton Smith in 1990 [and pedants within the commentariat were quick to point out that Sanders’s 1990 win, having occurred in November, was technically less than 30 years before that debate].

    Moreover, one could make a similar case as in this article that Delaware and Vermont were much closer to “swing states” at the time of Biden’s and Sanders’s initial wins than was Massachusetts at the time of Warren’s 2012 victory over incumbent Sen. Scott Brown.

    Regardless, it seems that presidential candidates in both parties seem to believe that having defeated an incumbent of the opposite party in a previous election is a major “ace up one’s sleeve” in a debate performance!

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