Who Is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie?

Once a political unknown, NJ Gov. is now a hot commodity in GOP.

April 6, 2011— -- Less than two years ago, Chris Christie was an unknown on the national political stage. Today, the governor of New Jersey is one of the brightest stars in the Republican Party, courted by likely presidential candidates and wildly popular with the party's conservative base.

Watch Diane Sawyer's interview with Chris Christie tonight on "ABC World News" and at ABCNews.com/WN.

Christie's rapid rise has come in large part thanks to his brash style, confronting New Jersey's major budget woes with an austerity program. His take-no-prisoners approach with teachers' unions and other public officials has rallied supporters and drawn plenty of controversy.

The New York Times has described Christie as "slick as sandpaper," but his bold personality is also popular.

Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, said that Christie's "big, rumpled, garrulous, Jersey-blunt" style "has captured the imagination of the political class, and also normal people. They look at him and think, 'I know that guy. I like that guy.'"

On the Issues

Christie was elected New Jersey's governor in November 2009, defeating incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine.

Neither a Tea Party Republican nor part of the Beltway establishment, Christie came to power as states across the country confronted vast budget shortfalls.

In his own state, Christie helped reduce the state's multi-billion dollar budget deficit through fiscal reforms, layoffs and tough cuts to education and other state services. Last year, the governor signed a state budget that was the smallest in five years.

As the governor of one of the bluest of blue states, Christie's national popularity and reputation are based more on those fiscal positions and far less on his positions on social issues like abortion, which he opposes, and civil unions, which he supports.

Wrangling with Teachers' Unions

Perhaps none of Christie's actions as governor have drawn more attention than his ongoing battle with New Jersey's powerful teachers' unions. The unions have become a principal target, with the governor criticizing both teachers' pay and performance.

Gov. Chris Christie Targets New Jersey Teachers' Unions

Christie has cut pension benefits for teachers and called on them to pay for more of their health care. Under a proposal Christie introduced in January, New Jersey public school teachers would be stripped of tenure and paid based in part on their students' performance.

"Teaching can no longer be the only profession where you have no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure to perform," Christie said during his first "State of the State" address in January.

But his administration has also taken heat for a $400 million mistake, after a flawed application for federal "Race to the Top" education fund was rejected. Finger-pointing ensued between the governor, federal officials and Christie's own state officials, but the missing data meant that New Jersey missed out on a major source of funds.

Tweeting Governor Also a YouTube Star

Christie's combative but down-to-earth personality is on display 24/7 through his extremely active social media accounts.

On Twitter, Christie uses his handle, @GovChristie, to engage in a lively back-and-forth with his constituents, sometimes taking on critics and often responding directly to New Jersey residents who ask for help.

The governor has also become a big star on YouTube, with staffers frequently posting short clips of his speeches, town halls and television appearances. Some clips have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

2012 Ambitions?

According to The Associated Press, several of the top Republican presidential hopefuls have already visited Christie in New Jersey or plan to do so soon, including Haley Barbour, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.

But Christie's growing national profile has also come with rumors that he might himself want to sit in the nation's highest office.

In January, Christie dismissed the notion that he might run in 2012, even as he left the door open for future contests.

"I am not arrogant enough to believe that after one year as governor of New Jersey and seven years as the United States attorney that I'm ready to be president of the United States. So I'm not going to run," Christie told Fox News.

Before He Was Governor

Before running for the governor's office, Christie had a successful law career and served in local government near his Morris County, New Jersey home.

Christie was a fundraiser and advisor to George W. Bush's presidential campaign in 2000. After his election, Bush, who nicknamed Christie "Big Boy," nominated Christie as a federal prosecutor.

While he had no experience as a prosecutor, Christie became known for his success in tackling corruption. In 2008, Christie resigned from the position to run for governor.

Christie, a father of four, has been married to wife Mary Pat since 1986.

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