Opinion: Why Chris Christie would Thump Cory Booker in Governor's Race

If I were Newark mayor Cory Booker, I wouldn’t run against Chris Christie unless it were in a 5K. In Quinnipiac’s new poll, Christie trounces him in a prospective 2013 gubernatorial matchup, 53 percent to 35 percent. That’s not a promising result for him in a state that President Obama won a month ago.

It makes sense for a rising Democratic star like Booker to seek a statewide office. He spoke at the Democratic National Convention and has a million followers on Twitter. But in all the media’s swooning over his personal heroics – he once rescued a neighbor from a house fire – Booker’s actual political accomplishments have been somewhat overrated, and a tough campaign against a successful incumbent like Christie could make that more apparent.      

One item on Booker’s trumped-up resume is school reform, his supposed signature achievement. Booker made headlines for his 2010 announcement on Oprah that he’d convinced Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to give him a $100 million grant to “transform” Newark schools. But Newark schools have been under state control since 1995. And most of the improvements that have happened on the ground are the results of changes that Christie, not Booker, made at the state level, like reforming the tenure rules for teachers.

Another is Booker’s claim to have lowered the crime rate in Newark. Over the summer, Booker’s office bragged to the press that homicides had dropped over 20 percent in his first term. To be fair, the murder rate has dropped there. Newark’s motto used to be, “Duck!” But the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report suggests that Newark benefited from a national trend. According to that data, homicides dipped 15 percent nationwide in the same period. 

This is the kind of stuff that would start to make Booker’s resume look thin in Christie’s campaign ads – or God forbid in a debate with Christie. The biggest obstacle to a Booker gubernatorial bid, though, might not be his resume, but Christie’s. 

To wit, it’ll be hard to convince people that Christie hasn’t done a lot for New Jersey. When the state budget headed for a $2.2 billion shortfall, for instance, Christie used the line-item veto to cut a billion off the top, some of it controversial, special interest groups be damned. The state legislature made headlines for overriding one of those cuts. But most were left in place. That’s a stark contrast to the apparent nonchalance of President Obama and Congress about going a trillion dollars over budget in Washington.

Speaking of Washington, it’ll be hard to convince people that Christie hasn’t looked out for the state’s interests there as well. When the US Department of Education denied New Jersey’s application for $400 million in Race to the Top funding because of a clerical error, for instance, the governor held a press conference to expose the program’s apparent red-tape nightmare as an example of “the stuff that drives people nuts about government.” When it turned out that his own education commissioner might have been part of the problem, Christie fired him too.

This is the Christie brand now: He acts like the post-partisan leader that Obama could’ve been. Booker damaged his burgeoning maverick brand with a YouTube video in which he back-peddled on prior criticism of the Obama campaign’s Bain Capital attacks under duress from the White House. But Christie cruised to 72 percent public approval rating when he left his own candidate in the lurch to tour Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath with President Obama. 

So to recap here: Christie has handled the teachers’ union. He’s handled the state debt. He’s handled the hurricane. With the bipartisan support that Christie seems to have now, I’d give the same advice to Booker that a Bergen Record columnist did: Run for U.S. Senate.