By ALAN RAPPEPORT via NYTimes
Most governors who seek the presidency promote executive experience as their chief credential, regaling voters with tales of big decisions they have made and budgets they have balanced.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also mentions those things, but lately he has been digging deeper into his résumé. With terrorism taking center stage in the 2016 race, Mr. Christie seems to take the most pride in his days as a federal prosecutor.
Five times during Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, and often unprompted, Mr. Christie managed to work in the fact that he was once a United States attorney in New Jersey. The experience, he argues, makes him best suited to destroy the Islamic State.
“I will tell you this, I’m a former federal prosecutor, I’ve fought terrorists,” Mr. Christie said in opening remarks.
Moments later, when asked how he would alleviate the fear of terrorist attacks that has become pervasive in America, Mr. Christie said that because of his work as a prosecutor he knew that terrorists were planning attacks elsewhere. People have good reason to be worried, he suggested.
“I could tell you this, as a former federal prosecutor, if a center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino, Calif., is now a target for terrorists, that means everywhere in America is a target for these terrorists,” Mr. Christie said.
As rivals debated the details of immigration policy, Mr. Christie jumped in to make the case that Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz were just talkers who knew nothing about really fighting terror. As a prosecutor, he reminded viewers again, he has actually gone up against terrorists.
“This is the difference between having been a federal prosecutor instead of being one of 100 people debating it,” Mr. Christie said, explaining that he had used the Patriot Act to stymie attacks in New Jersey.
Mr. Christie was appointed as federal prosecutor in 2001 and served in that role until 2008, before becoming New Jersey’s governor. His popularity in the state has faded in recent years amid economic turmoil, the George Washington Bridge scandal and frequent travel around the country to raise money and campaign for higher office.
Looking to jump-start his flagging presidential campaign, Mr. Christie has latched onto his experience from the aftermath of attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to remake himself as a national security candidate.
As Tuesday’s debate was winding down, the conversation turned to taking in Syrian refugees. Mr. Christie has taken a hard line on the issue, saying that none should be accepted and pointing to concerns raised by James Comey, the F.B.I. director.
“Now, listen, I’m a former federal prosecutor, I know Jim Comey,” Mr. Christie said, mentioning that the two go way back and had even worked together in law enforcement. “He was the U.S. attorney in Manhattan when I was a U.S. attorney in New Jersey.