'Huggable' Christie previews presidential road map

Chris Christie: 'The most huggable' presidential candidate?
Chris Christie: 'The most huggable' presidential candidate?

    JUST WATCHED

    Chris Christie: 'The most huggable' presidential candidate?

MUST WATCH

Chris Christie: 'The most huggable' presidential candidate? 02:05

Trenton, New Jersey (CNN)Woodrow Wilson isn't a likely presidential model for any modern Republican (League of Nations, anyone?), but he was president.

He was also Governor of New Jersey.
Wilson's bust sits in the hallway outside of Chris Christie's office in the State House here. Christie surely didn't put it there, but every time he opens the door, he sees it -- a reminder of presidential ambition.
Not that Christie needs much reminding.
    His official State of the State address this week was a rhetorical roadmap to a presidential bid.
    There were lines about "American renewal" that could be easily lifted right from his teleprompter in Trenton and onto a bumper sticker in New Hampshire.
    Christie confidantes insist he is not worried about early moves by Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, two powerful forces who occupy the same "establishment" space as Christie in the crowded GOP presidential field.
    Sources say Christie plans to fulfill a promise he made as chair of the Republican Governors Association not to do anything to advance his own ambition before finishing the job for them. He sees the last GOP gubernatorial inauguration -- Larry Hogan in Maryland on Jan. 21 - as his final RGA chair duty.
    Soon after -- look for Christie to form a political action committee in order to finance travel and staff for a potential presidential bid.
    It is true that Christie has spent over a year raising record dollars for the RGA -- meeting many millionaires and billionaires along the way he would likely dial for dollars for 2016.
    But listening closely to Christie's speech to his state, it is clear he knows his biggest challenge in getting the GOP donor class to give. It's not "bridgegate" -- it's the lagging New Jersey economy -- from credit downgrades to unemployment woes.
    "It has become fashionable in some quarters to run down our state. I get it: that's politics," Christie told a majority Democratic General Assembly.
    Christie spent much of his State of the State speech giving his side of New Jersey's economic story. He explained just how bad Garden State books were when he took over from his Democratic predecessor -- talking about how far they have come given how deep in the hole they were when he took over.
    He framed it as a case study in how long it takes for a low taxing, low spending Republican to turn things around after years of big taxing and big spending Democratic government.
    Walking the halls before and after the speech talking to local lawmakers who know him best from working with him for five years, it was like a tale of two Christies.
    It is probably not surprising that people have strong opinions.
    "I think people are surprised that he does what he says he's going to do," Christie's supportive Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno told CNN.
    "It's really a tale of two states, the one that exists here that we in New Jersey have to live with, and the one he wants to tell the national media about," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Democrat leading the chamber's bridgegate probe.
    From his friend and GOP ally Jon Bramnick, another Assemblyman, the line of the day:
    "When I travel the United States people come up to me and say 'I love Chris Christie. He is the most huggable candidate that we will ever have in this country. People wanna hug him."
    Chris Christie later tweeted that "hugs keep me going."