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Chris Christie, a fighter from Jersey

Chris Christie: Made in New Jersey 09:45

(CBS News) He's a politician made in New Jersey, without a doubt. He's Republican Governor Chris Christie. Tracy Smith tracked him down for some Questions-and-Answers:

Watch Chris Christie work the crowds at the Jersey shore, and he may look like your typical glad-handing politician. But the New Jersey governor would be the first to tell you -- proudly -- there's nothing typical about him.

"I'll tell you what I think most American politicians sound like -- and more important, what I think what citizens think, remember Charlie Brown's teacher? Wah, wah, wah, wah. It all sounds the same, and you can't really understand what it is? No one says that about me. Nobody says that about me."

And if they did, he probably wouldn't let them get away with it.

As the Republican governor of a heavily-Democratic state, he can be abrasive. He seldom minces words, or spares feelings. Words he has used to describe people include "idiot," "stupid," "jerk," and "crazy."

"Are these words that a person in your position, a leadership position, should be using?" asked Smith.

"Sure," Christie replied. "Absolutely."

" 'Idiot' ?"

"Sure. Someone's an idiot, they're an idiot!" he laughed.

"Are you a bully?" Smith asked.

"No, no. I'm not a bully. But what I am is a fighter."

"What is the difference?"

"I think a bully is abusive. And a fighter is somebody who's willing to mix it up to defend his or her point of view."

Most Americans first got a glimpse that fighting spirit last fall, when Superstorm Sandy battered New Jersey, causing $30 billion in damage to its prized tourism asset: the shore.

Christie comforted residents who'd lost loved ones and homes, and later railed against Congress when relief money didn't come fast enough.

"What do you think Sandy did for your image?" asked Smith.

"Well, I think that it broadened it a little bit to show something that was always there but that people didn't have the opportunity to see before."

Which was what? "Uh, compassion," he replied.

Of course, some people in his party didn't like seeing the warm reception the governor gave President Obama in the days leading up to the 2012 presidential election. Christie had endorsed fellow Republican Mitt Romney, but he embraced Democratic President Obama.

But he disagrees that the embrace helped Mr. Obama win the election.

"A little bit?" Smith asked.


"There must have been people nudging and saying, 'Don't be nice to him,' " Smith suggested.

"Sure. 'Nudging' is a nice way of putting it, you know? They were badgering me, and I, quite frankly, you know, was tired of it.

"What I said to people is, 'We're pulling dead bodies out of homes still, and if you think that what I'm concerned about is politics, you can forget it."

Right now, Christie's fighting for re-election in November. He's ahead of Democrat Barbara Buono by more than 30 points, and has a 66-percent approval rating -- even though polls find most New Jerseyans disapprove of Christie's handling of some key issues, like same-sex marriage.

"You do not believe in same-sex marriage?" Smith asked.

"I do not," Christie said. "But what I will tell you is that I understand that good people of good will have a difference of opinion on this. And so my view on it is, put it on the ballot. Let the people decide."

On Friday, a judge ruled that New Jersey must allow same-sex marriage. Christie vowed to appeal.

And at a campaign stop in the City of Orange this past week, he was greeted by protesters jeering him about his veto of a minimum wage bill.

Still, to Christie, conflict is a comfort zone.

Chris Christie was born in Newark, though his parents moved away because of the failing schools. His mom was Sicilian . . . and a democrat. His dad is Irish . . . and a Republican.

"They argued openly, loudly in our house between each other, with us," Christie recalled. "It was the atmosphere in the home. And so when you see your role models feel passionately about the things they believe in, you emulate them."

The four-story walkup where he lived is now a vacant lot. But Christie's memories are clear, especially of his mother Sondra, who died nine years ago.

The outspoken governor gets emotional talking about her influence. "Her presence seems so large in your life," Smith said.

"Oh yeah. She is today, still, the most dominant force in my life, still. Coming back to places like this, you know, with you is -- you know, makes me feel her presence even more, even more."

Christie met Mary Pat Foster, the other female force in his life, in college. Both Catholics, they married in 1986 and have four kids.

With her blessing, Christie entered local politics as a county legislator in 1994. But when he lost his bid for re-election three years later, he nearly walked away for good.

"After I lost, I never thought I'd be a candidate for anything again. I just thought, 'Maybe this isn't for me.' "

Why? " 'Cause I lost."

"It hurt that much that that was it? You wanted to walk away?" Smith asked.

"Well, it wasn't the hurt that did it. You think, like, you only want to do things that you're successful at. It caused me to reflect a lot and to just think about whether or not this is really the right thing for me to do."

He turned to a law career, and was appointed U.S. Attorney for New Jersey by President George W. Bush in 2001. Eight years later, Christie jumped back into politics, running for governor against the incumbent, Democrat John Corzine.

As governor, Christie's made plenty of waves -- cutting taxes to the wealthy, and tenure for teachers. But he's also been known to compromise, and says politicians in Washington should do the same.

"Do you think that the Republicans should be forcing a shutdown of the government if they don't get their way?" asked Smith.

"No," said Christie. "I think there's got to be a solution other than that. And I don't think that we should be doing that. I don't think -- and I quite frankly, be fair, I don't think you hear responsible Republican leaders advocating a shutdown of the government."

"So those who are advocating it, are they irresponsible?"

"Well, I think it's always irresponsible, if you're running the government, to be advocating for shutting it down. That, by definition, is a failure. You gotta work it out."

In New Jersey, he's found some common ground with Democrats, like recommending rehabilitation instead of prison for first-time drug offenders.

"Non-violent kids, young adults who make bad choices -- who among us haven't made a bad choice in life?"

At a rehab center in Paterson -- and, it seems, wherever the governor goes -- people weigh in on his weight. ("Stay away from the donuts, governor!" said one kitchen worker.)

It's been a favorite subject of late-night comedians -- sometimes with the governor playing along. But the 51-year-old took it seriously enough to have lapband surgery earlier this year.

"We don't give numbers, but what I will say is I'm more than halfway to my goal," Christie said.

And there's speculation that Christie has another goal: the White House in 2016.

"People asked me, am I going to stay in New Jersey? And I said, 'That's what I intend to do.' "

"So does that mean you'll serve out your full term?"

"Well, we'll see. I don't know. That's a decision I have to make further down the road, isn't it?"

"Well, you can say that. But the people of New Jersey want to know if you're going to stick around," said Smith.

"Well, do they? How do you know that?"

"Come on . . ."

"How do you know that?"

"You do think people in New Jersey don't care whether you'll run for president in 2016?" asked Smith.

"You know, I think most of them probably don't," he replied. "I'm not making that decision now, I never would. Be stupid for me to do it. See, there's that word, using it on myself. If I were to make that decision now, it would be stupid."

Of course, there's still plenty of time for Chris Christie to decide whether to run for a higher office -- and plenty of time for Americans to decide whether they like what they see.

"Look at my record, look at what I've done, judge me for who I am, and then I'll live with whatever that judgment is," Christie said. "Done it before. You know, I've lived with winning and losing. And what I realize is if you're yourself the next day, the sun comes up, no matter what happens."

"Even if you lose."

"Sure. It's a little sadder. But it still comes up."

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