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Christie's appeal rises above polarized nation, NBC/WSJ poll shows

Mel Evans / AP

The N.J. politician's straight-talk and tough policies put him in the national spotlight — but after considering a presidential bid, the governor decided he wasn't ready.

Chris Christie is carving out a unique position in the polarized landscape of American politics. The Republican New Jersey governor now enjoys nearly equal appeal among Democrats, Republicans and independents according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

As Christie - who on Tuesday won the primary contest to be the Republican nomination for governor - looks to re-election this fall and possibly to the White House in 2016, he has forged a close relationship with President Barack Obama.

He’s also energized certain segments of the Republican Party with his tough fiscal approach to governing New Jersey, and has proven popular among Garden State residents for his style of crisis management.

It’s a combination that’s led to 40 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents and 43 percent of Democrats seeing him in a positive light.

Click here to read the entire NBC/WSJ poll (.pdf)

Christie's crossover appeal has some precedence. Arizona Sen. John McCain once enjoyed broad support, particularly among independents during and after his 2000 presidential bid, as did former Secretary of State Colin Powell when he was considered a potential presidential candidate in 1996 and beyond. But it's still unique to see an active politician receiving high marks among all the entire political spectrum.

Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie outlines plans for a special election to be held to fill the vacant seat of Sen. Frank Lautenberg on June 4, 2013 at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.

Compare Christie’s appeal to Obama, who’s seen favorably by 84 percent of Democrats vs. 11 percent of Republicans. And Hillary Clinton -- who left domestic politics to become secretary of state, and may be mulling her own presidential bid -- is also seen as polarizing, with 83 percent of Democrats viewing her positively compared to 15 percent of Republicans.

Among all respondents, Christie’s favorable/unfavorable rating lands at 41 percent favorable vs. 12 percent unfavorable. That’s compared to Obama’s 47 percent favorable/40 percent unfavorable rating and Clinton’s 49 percent favorable/31 percent unfavorable score.

Both Clinton and Christie will find themselves in Chicago next week, co-headlining a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Christie has been a national figure since having scored an upset victory over Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009, a rare victory for Republicans in deep-blue New Jersey.

His pugnacious style and crossover appeal won him fans among some high-profile Republicans, who practically beckoned him to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2012 (and begged him to reconsider after he decided against it).

Courtesy of Chris Christie

Family photos of the New Jersey governor reveal a childhood spent in the state he loves.

“Over the last few weeks I’ve thought long and hard about this decision. I’ve explored the options,” Christie said in Oct. 2011 following entreaties to reconsider his decision against running. “I’ve listened to so many people and considered whether this was something that I needed to take on. But in the end what I’ve always felt was the right decision remains the right decision today. Now is not my time. I have a commitment to New Jersey that I simply will not abandon.”

But Christie’s popularity among conservatives has tumbled somewhat in the time since then.

The governor’s effusive praise for Obama’s handling of the response to Hurricane Sandy in the days before last year’s presidential election particularly rankled conservatives, even though former GOP nominee Mitt Romney said Christie was only doing what was best for his state.

Christie -- who delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Republican convention -- has appeared cozy with Obama at different points, as well, most recently during an appearance last week in Asbury Park to toast the rebuilt Jersey Shore boardwalk. (Christie also condemned an NRA ad in January invoking the president’s daughters as “reprehensible.”)

A NewsNation panel shares their thoughts on the special election and who may fill the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg's Senate seat.

The New Jersey governor, never one to hold his tongue, has crossed fellow Republicans on several other matters. He expanded the Garden State’s Medicaid program under “Obamacare,” and he berated Republicans in Congress for holding up a Sandy relief package.

"There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: The House majority and their speaker John Boehner," Christie said at the time. He called GOP lawmakers' insistence that Sandy aid be offset by other cuts a "disgusting" spectacle.

Those defections earned Christie a snub from appearing at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the influential annual gathering of conservative activists in Washington. Though Christie dismissed the snub, it was representative of the friction between his positioning and the rightward flank of the GOP that exerts itself in presidential nominating cycles.

Some Republicans privately grumbled as recently as Tuesday, when Christie announced that he would hold a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg rather than appoint a Republican placeholder through the 2014 election. And beyond that, Christie didn’t necessarily commit to naming a Republican interim appointee to the seat until October’s election.

Those GOP grumbles are evident in the NBC/WSJ poll. Despite his crossover appeal, his support among Republican respondents isn't as high as other prominent GOP politicians.

Take former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also might be mulling a 2016 run -- 48 percent of Republicans in the poll view him favorably, compared to just 7 percent who view him negatively.

Christie's GOP support isn't as strong, however: 40 percent positive vs. 16 percent negative.

And that’s perhaps the price of having crossover appeal.

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