New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who spent three years as president of his high school class, is returning to his alma mater to announce he’s running for president of his country.
The Republican governor is set to launch his campaign Tuesday in the old gymnasium of Livingston High School in the town of Livingston, New Jersey, where he experienced some of his first political victories. Christie remains close to many of his former classmates, who had inklings even then that a career in politics was in his future.
“If you were to poll and ask who would one day be governor, I think Chris would have overwhelmingly won,” said Harlan Coben, now a best-selling author, who served as student council president when Christie was senior class president and played with him on the Little League baseball team in the town about 20 miles west of New York City.
In an interview with The Associated Press ahead of his 35th high school reunion earlier this year, Christie, who also served in student government during his junior high school years, talked about some of the lessons he learned from those early races. Among them: Always vote for yourself.
“The first race I ever ran in, I did not vote for myself. I voted for the other person because I actually thought that you know it was conceited to vote for yourself. And I wound up losing the election by two votes,” he said. “So I learned always to vote for yourself, that’s the first thing.”
Another lesson he said he learned: The more friends the better. “So much of this was about letting people get to know you and having lots of friends,” he said. “You know, if people got to know you, you had a good chance to get them to vote for you. If you didn’t know them, it was a lot less likely.”
Christie’s remarks on Tuesday, to be delivered without a teleprompter, will be aimed at reintroducing himself to a national audience that has seen him fade from favor among Republicans and then try to climb back.
He’ll draw heavily on how his upbringing shaped him in articulating his vision for the country. The governor faces a tough sell with many conservatives, while seeming to find his stride at times in visits to early voting states with the lively town hall meetings he’s known for at home.
Christie’s former high school friends were among the first to receive word that Christie would be launching his campaign at their old school.
“He’s respecting his roots,” said Stephen Slotnick, another fellow classmate, who applauded the governor for including “the people who’ve grown up with him, the people who’ve supported him his entire life.”
Christie’s classmates remember him as a popular kid, not the pushy figure that many people think of now.
Coben met Christie when he was 10 and joined the baseball team midway through the season because he’d been sick.
“Chris came over to me — I was uncomfortable, I didn’t know anybody,” he said. Christie “knew me by name, and brought me into the fold.”
The political struggles in those days were about keeping chocolate milk in the cafeteria and fighting for off-campus lunch privileges. Christie organized a boycott against a local diner that didn’t like kids sitting at the tables without ordering food.
In one copy of his yearbook, which appeared to belong to a favorite social studies teacher, Christie scrawled in the margins next to his photo:
“Through all the hustle and big-shot fever I got being Senior class Pres. you made me look at myself. Sometimes I didn’t like what I saw but with your help, I always understood it.” He advised her to “always follow your star, wherever it leads you!”