New Jersey Gov. and GOP superstar Chris Christie is joining former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich on the campaign trail this week, bringing what Ehrlich hopes will be a major boost to his effort to unseat Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Christie's brash, no-nonsense governing style has caught national attention since he won the governorship in 2009. His endorsement comes at a critical time in the Maryland governor's race, campaign analysts say. Recent polls show Ehrlich slipping slightly behind O'Malley in a state that is heavily Democratic.
"[Christie] is a huge star," said GOP strategist and former Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant. "His proposals to reform government in New Jersey is the type of leadership voters want to see everywhere. That's why he is in big demand across the country this fall."
Christie defeated Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine last year and inherited an $11 billion deficit, as well as one of the nation's most underfunded pension systems.
Since taking office, Christie has identified more than $2 billion in unspent funds, forced schoolteachers to pay for their health care benefits and slashed state spending by $3 billion without raising taxes.
"It's not unlike what the next governor of Maryland will face," said James Gimpel, a politics professor at the University of Maryland. He said Christie's governing style can "appear brash," but "there's a real truth to it" that will appeal to some Marylanders who feel fatigued by taxes and big government.
Christie is headlining an Ehrlich fundraiser Saturday at a private home in Reisterstown, at the cost of $1,000 for admission and $4,000 for a photo op, according to an event invitation.
Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth said the event will be closed to reporters.
Political science professor Todd Eberly called Christie a "good role model" for Ehrlich, as a Republican presiding over a Democratically controlled legislature. Christie is the first Republican governor of New Jersey since 1993.
"Christie is exactly the kind of person Ehrlich would want to endorse him," said Eberly, an assistant professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
"He's amassing a pretty impressive track record trying to bring down government spending, and even taking on sacred cows like teachers unions."
But Don Norris, a public policy professor, said Christie will only appeal to the Republican base, which Ehrlich already has secured.
"There is no national figure that I can think of who can win the race for Bob Ehrlich in Maryland," said Norris, a professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and director of the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research.
Conant insisted, however, that Christie would appeal to Maryland's independents.
"[Christie] is taking on the unions and the liberal establishment directly," Conant said. "That's what conservatives want and that's what independents want."