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Chris Christie faces a minefield of issues on national stage

By Alana Semuels

7:12 PM EST, November 5, 2013

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Chris Christie seems poised to cruise to a big victory in New Jersey, setting the stage for a potential presidential run in 2016. He’s spent the end of his campaign on a bus tour throughout the state, trying to drum up even more votes and prove that he can appeal to a wide spectrum of voters.

Christie has barely mentioned his Republican party affiliation in the race. His advertisements end with the words “Chris Christie. The Governor,” and he has repeatedly emphasized his bipartisan accomplishments.

But it is one thing to underemphasize his party affiliation while running in a Democratic state, and quite another to navigate between the parties on the national stage. As governor, Christie has taken positions that have drawn voters from all ranks, but he has also taken positions likely to alienate both sides. A quick list of the issues that may cause Christie problems: 

What troubles the right:

Undocumented immigrants. Until recently, Christie repeatedly said he did not believe people in the U.S. without documentation should receive a discount on in-state tuition. But recently, during a speech at an annual gala for the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, he reversed course, saying he wanted the state Legislature to make sure “that there’s tuition equality for everybody in New Jersey.” Conservative blogs such as PJ Media called this pronouncement “The final nail in the coffin,” saying that there was “simply no room in the GOP for Chris Christie.”

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Gay marriage. Christie, a Catholic, opposes gay marriage. He vetoed legislation and appealed a court decision that would have permitted same sex-marriage in the state. But after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state had to let marriages go forward as the appeal went on, his office decided to drop the appeal. Gay marriages began in New Jersey soon after. This enraged many conservatives, including Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive of the Family Leader, an Iowa group that has sway in the state's influential presidential caucuses.

Vander Plaats had this to say in a statement issued shortly after Christie said he would not appeal:  

“Gov. Christie is not showing leadership. Leaders lead out of conviction. It is one thing to say ‘I believe in one-man, one-woman marriage,’ but when the judicial branch attempts to legislate from the bench in violation of their constitutional boundaries, and then you back away from upholding the institution of marriage and the Constitution, you aren’t a leader.”

Working with President Obama. Many conservatives are still angry that Christie toured New Jersey with Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, giving the president a bear hug on television, rather than campaigning for GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the last days before the 2012 presidential election.

Christie also criticized House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, earlier this year for refusing to allow a vote on a Sandy relief package until the new year. “Disaster relief was something that you didn't play games with.... It is why the American people hate Congress,” Christie said at the time. This, among other things, led to a spat between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Christie, with Paul accusing Christie of demanding handouts and calling him the “king of bacon.”

What troubles the left: 

Contraception. Christie holds views on social issues that may isolate him from Democrats. He opposes abortion and has vetoed bills that would fund family-planning groups such as Planned Parenthood. His frequent vetoes of funding for family planning have led facilities to close, women’s groups say.

“Chris Christie likes playing a moderate on TV, but when you look at what he’s actually done during his time in office it’s clear that’s all just an act. He has targeted services New Jersey women and families rely on time and time again, and he’s proven he’s no less extreme than any of his fellow Republicans. You can only play a role for so long before people start catching on,” said Marcy Stech, a spokeswoman for Emily’s List.

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Minimum wag. New Jersey has a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which is also the federal minimum. The Democratic Legislature has passed bills that would raise the minimum wage, but Christie has vetoed them. There is a measure on the Tuesday ballot that would raise the minimum wage in New Jersey and tie it to inflation through a constitutional amendment -- the only way, advocates figured, to pass a minimum wage hike over Christie’s vocal objections. His Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, has raised the issue frequently in her campaign, saying at a debate that Christie’s veto is “a reflection of him protecting the millionaires and the wealthy and turning his back on the working class and the poor.”

Gay marriage. Even as it complicates support from the right, the issue also could hurt Christie among moderates. Political scientists say voters are much more likely to pay attention to social issues in a national election than in a statewide one. Christie's veto of the bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey could turn off independent voters like Craig Drakeford, 44, of Hoboken, who said that although he likes Christie, he wouldn’t support him for national office. “I think he’s done a good job,” he said. “But I don’t agree with him socially.”

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Twitter: @AlanaSemuels

alana.semuels@latimes.com