New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno launched her campaign Tuesday to succeed fellow Republican Gov. Chris Christie, criticizing his $300 million statehouse renovation, knocking his use of the state police helicopter for travel, and promising in a word to make the state “better.”
Guadagno is the state’s first lieutenant governor, twice elected on the ticket with Christie, and is entering this year’s contest as Christie contends with a record-low approval rating and Democrats feeling confident they’ll take the governorship.
Christie cannot seek reelection because of term limits. The primaries are June 6. Guadagno joins Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, among others, competing for the nomination.
Guadagno’s relationship with the governor has been strained at times and the timing of her campaign rollout further underscored their differences. She staged the event at a Keansburg Mexican restaurant, whose owner said she helped him after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“We simply do not have the money to turn the statehouse into the Palace of Versailles,” she said in her most pointed barb at the governor, a reference to Christie’s plan to renovate the deteriorating statehouse for $300 million.
She also pointed out that she has traveled across New Jersey in a vehicle — “not in a helicopter,” a reference to Christie’s frequent use of the state police chopper.
Asked after the event whether she had talked to the governor about an endorsement, she said she would take any endorsement from anyone who wants to back her.
Christie’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. During the lieutenant governor’s announcement, he was holding his own event to sign an executive order to address the state’s drug addiction crisis.
With the campaign slogan “Better,” she said her leadership would be a break from the two-term governor’s handling of the state. But sounding like Christie, she praised the state’s economic recovery since their election in 2009 deep into the national recession.
She said she would lower taxes, fund schools fairly and continue to fight the state’s opioid drug crisis, which is Christie’s top priority in his final year in office.
She also disputed a criticism that she has stood in the governor’s shadow over seven years, pointing to her trips across the state to meet with residents and businesses.
For much of the administration, Guadagno differed little with Christie, but recently split with the governor over his support of Republican Donald Trump, now the president-elect, and a gas tax increase that went toward transportation funding and other tax cuts.
“If you think I’ve been silent for the last seven years, you simply haven’t been paying attention,” she said.
Michael Egenton, an executive with the state Chamber of Commerce, which doesn’t endorse candidates, credited Guadagno for becoming an effective point of contact for businesses. He said his member businesses tell him that her accessibility helped them make decisions quickly.