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NY Politics
Energy Is Top Focus of Christie Trip
From the Wall Street Journal of Wed, 03 Dec 2014 21:30:20 EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, shown in Ocean City, N.J., on Aug. 14, will pay a two-day visit to Canada beginning Thursday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, shown in Ocean City, N.J., on Aug. 14, will pay a two-day visit to Canada beginning Thursday. Mel Evans/Associated Press

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s third international trip, a two-day visit to Canada that begins Thursday, is likely to appeal to a conservative, pro-business base the Republican covets for a potential 2016 presidential run.

The thrust of his activity comes in Calgary, where energy is a key industry and debate on the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the U.S. is a top-priority issue. Mr. Christie is expected to speak at the Calgary Petroleum Club, visit Toronto and Ottawa, and meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and business leaders.

Political observers said the trip serves several purposes. It is a way to wade into foreign travel without visiting a political hot spot that could pose challenges; Canada has few political crises affecting the American political dialogue.

Mr. Christie will also be able to highlight his position on a popular Republican-base issue: Building the Keystone pipeline. President Barack Obama hasn't made a decision on the pipeline more than six years after it was formally proposed.

And Mr. Christie can move away from a range of problems in New Jersey, from a weak economy to a teetering Atlantic City to an uphill fight with the Democratic Legislature over changing the state’s pension system. The Star-Ledger published an editorial Wednesday urging him to pay more attention to New Jersey’s problems. His popularity ratings have dipped in the state.

“If he is boning up on foreign policy and trade relations, he doesn’t have to think about the very unpleasant situation back home,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University.

Aides to Mr. Christie say highlighting energy policy including the Keystone pipeline—which would carry oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast—is important because it could lower gas prices and further reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Mr. Christie hasn't outlined a specific energy policy but has often talked about approving the pipeline.

“Approving Keystone would actually drive down the price of oil and help consumers in all North American countries. It should be done today,” he said in Mexico in September.

Aides say they will also try to persuade companies to bring jobs to New Jersey, as they did in Mexico, but that it will take time to see whether such efforts are fruitful. They have declined to specify how many or if jobs were scored on the Mexico trip, saying it is too early to know.

Other potential presidential contenders have made forays outside North America, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry ’s trip to Europe earlier this year. Aides to Mr. Christie say there is plenty of time to venture further afield and that the trip is part of a strategy to highlight important North American partnerships.

Energy interests loom large in Calgary, which is home to dozens of Canadian oil and gas company headquarters. The largest city in Alberta, its official slogan is “Be part of the energy.” It looks to the U.S. as its single biggest export market and has pressed Washington for approval of the Keystone pipeline.

Hillary Clinton has also visited the city twice, to much fanfare and sold-out crowds. Mr. Christie’s visit hasn’t attracted as much attention in Calgary and he doesn’t have widespread name recognition in Western Canada. But his pro-Keystone message is expected to resonate strongly.

“He’s going to get a welcome reception here because he’s viewed as an ally” on the Keystone issue, said Duane Bratt, a professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“The [energy] industry may not care what a governor from New Jersey has to say, but I think they care about what a [potential U.S.] presidential candidate has to say,” he said.

Lanhee Chen, a former senior aide to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney , said the trip gives Mr. Christie a range of benefits: He elevates his stature by appearing alongside foreign leaders, treks outside the U.S. without leaving his home state for many days, and learns about global issues before the heat of a presidential run.

But for governors who aren't fully briefed on foreign policy, such ventures pose risks.

“People are going to be watching if you are following diplomatic protocols, have you committed any gaffes, have you said anything that can be spun as far as a lack of understanding foreign policy?” Mr. Chen said.

—Chester Dawson contributed to this article.

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