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New Jersey's Struggles May Shadow Christie's Speech


As we mentioned, New Jersey Governor Christ Christie gives tonight's keynote speech. For a while, the popular first-term governor was rumored to be in the running for the vice presidential spot, and his appearance tonight could raise his national profile even more.

But as NPR's Joel Rose reports, tough economic times in New Jersey may put a damper on Christie's remarks.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: If you've been following Chris Christie this year, you might have heard one phrase turn up over and over again in his public appearances and radio ads: The New Jersey Comeback.


GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: Hi, this is Chris Christie. Since becoming your governor we've worked hard together to begin our New Jersey comeback. We passed two balanced budgets without wasting...

The New Jersey comeback has begun. It's begun. It's going well.

ROSE: But troubling economic numbers have given Christie's critics new reasons to question that narrative. Last month, the state's unemployment rate ticked upward to 9.8 percent, more than a point above the national average. And state tax revenues have been lagging behind expectations.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE LOUIS GREENWALD: It's not my definition of a comeback, seems like we're losing ground.

ROSE: Democrat Louis Greenwald is the majority leader in the New Jersey General Assembly.

GREENWALD: See, my idea of a comeback is I'm behind and I start gaining ground and I get closer. We were at 9.7 percent unemployment. We're now at 9.8 percent unemployment. And everyone else around us is getting better. There's a problem.

ROSE: Christie says the words New Jersey Comeback will not appear in his convention speech tonight. But he argues the state is in much better fiscal shape than it was the day he took office, when it faced a projected budget deficit in excess of $11 billion.

CHRISTIE: To be in a spot now where really just arguing about whether we cut taxes or not, not how we bail ourselves out of the miserable economic failure that I inherited, I think that means the comeback has begun.

ROSE: Chris Christie was born in Newark, went to law school at Seton Hall and served as the U.S. attorney in New Jersey. His straight-talking Jersey guy persona has endeared him to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But since taking office in 2010, Christie has also been able to work with the state's Democratically-controlled legislature to pass policies that once seemed impossible, to Republicans like State Senator Joe Kyrillos.

STATE SENATOR JOE KYRILLOS: People are not afraid about reforming teacher tenure; once could not even be talked about, now a legislative achievement. And so, it's the culture change here that's our most important achievement.

ROSE: Under Christie, New Jersey has cut spending on education and public employee pensions, among other things. That's what Christie is likely to tout in his speech tonight, says Peter Woolley, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

PETER WOLLEY: Christie has plugged into the mood of the public in New Jersey. His message has been fiscal reform. And this is a population in New Jersey, like elsewhere in the country, where people are very much in the mood for fiscal responsibility.

ROSE: Woolley says that message plays especially well to independent voters, who Republicans hope to attract to their presidential ticket in the fall. Speaking today at "CBS This Morning," Christie said he plans to talk about the hard choices New Jersey has made and how the state could be an example for the rest of the country.

CHRISTIE: Ultimately, I think that that's where any leader who is telling the truth is going to get to. They're going to get to the point where they're going to have to tell you everyone is going to have to hurt. But I think we also need to have growth.

ROSE: What Chris Christie may not say is that in New Jersey, job growth has been slower than he might have hoped.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.