TRENTON, N.J. — Governor Chris Christie seldom makes a political miscalculation, as even his adversaries acknowledged after the incumbent Republican rolled to 60 percent of the vote to win reelection in a heavily Democratic state.
But when the likely 2016 presidential candidate maneuvered to dump Tom Kean Jr. as state Senate Republican leader two days later, he suffered a rare defeat — and alienated the lawmaker’s father, Tom Kean Sr., a GOP elder statesman and popular former governor who gave Christie his political start.
“I’m as surprised as I’ve ever been in my life in politics,” said Kean, 78.
Christie has abruptly severed ties before — he fired his first education commissioner over mistakes on a federal grant application, for example. But, a week after the younger Kean rallied enough Senate Republicans to easily rebuff the governor, his father still seemed stung.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said, noting that Christie hadn’t phoned him or the younger Kean, and that he’d grown weary waiting for the call.
As Kean and Christie tell it, Christie was a 14-year-old living in Livingston when his mother drove him to Kean’s house and he knocked on the door.
“ ‘Sir, I want to get involved in politics and I don’t know how to do it,’ ” Kean said, recounting Christie’s words in a 2010 interview. “I said, basically, ‘I’m thinking of running for governor. If you want to find out, get in the car. I’m going up to Bergen County. Come with me and see if you like it.’ ”
Christie often refers to Kean as a mentor, and Kean has stayed involved in Christie’s ascending career. He advised Christie in his first political race, put in a good word for him when George W. Bush was looking for a US attorney in New Jersey, raised money for Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns, and spoke at his Nov. 5 reelection celebration.
Two days later, Kean said Christie made his move without prior mention.
The question of Christie’s loyalty has been raised before. His Republican National Convention speech was panned as self-serving as the GOP was rallying behind Mitt Romney. His allegiance to Romney was doubted again when he embraced President Obama days before the 2012 election.
The hug, which came while Obama toured the Hurricane Sandy-battered Jersey shore, drew such fury that Christie was forced to do damage-control with calls to News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch and other influential Republicans.
Romney lost, giving a Republican like Christie an open shot at the party’s nomination for president in 2016.
Many believe Christie was trying to accommodate Stephen Sweeney, the Democratic Senate president who has partnered with Christie on key legislative initiatives.
Sweeney wasn’t shy about his desire to have the younger Kean dethroned after the Republican helped fund Sweeney’s unsuccessful reelection opponent. Sweeney and others also blamed Kean for the GOP’s failure to make gains in the Senate despite Christie’s win at the top of the ticket.