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Originally published August 9, 2012 at 9:18 PM | Page modified August 10, 2012 at 8:32 AM

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New Jersey's Gov. Christie rallies support here for McKenna

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came to Bellevue on Thursday to rally support for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie rallied support for gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna before a crowd of about 200 Republicans in Bellevue on Thursday.

"I have to tell you something," said Christie, a GOP firebrand in town to help raise money for McKenna. "You're about as far away from New Jersey as any place in the country. But I can feel the energy coming from Washington state Republicans, independents and disaffected Democrats."

McKenna, the state attorney general, finished second behind former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee in the primary on Tuesday.

But Christie said he's "got a feeling" McKenna will win in November.

"He's shown you now for eight years that he knows how to lead on the statewide level," said Christie, adding that "if I don't see this thing going well, and I mean really well, I'm going to hold the people in this room responsible first."

Christie spent most of his 20-minute speech highlighting his tenure in New Jersey.

When he took office, Christie said, the Democrat-controlled Legislature was focused on raising taxes.

But Christie said he took a hard line, pushing for better prioritizing that led to job growth.

He also touted his education changes, including requiring stricter evaluations of teachers.

"I can't wait to come back here in 2013 and watch Rob McKenna do it for the state of Washington," Christie said.

He did not address long-standing rumors that he is being considered by Mitt Romney as a vice-presidential nominee.

Christie is the latest of several conservative governors who have come here to support McKenna, including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Jeb Bush of Florida and, last week, Susana Martinez of New Mexico.

On Thursday, the "unity rally" at The Westin Bellevue was meant to inspire Republicans in the wake of the primary.

In a rousing speech, state Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur expressed optimism about the party's chances in November.

"I want to wake up smelling of stale cigars and stale beer, with a bit of headache but feeling good," Wilbur said of the morning after the upcoming election.

McKenna, meanwhile, issued his standard stump speech, calling for changes to the state's education system, streamlining of state government and enacting "tax and regulatory relief."

Several other prominent Republicans were also in attendance, including attorney-general candidate Reagan Dunn, U.S. Senate hopeful Michael Baumgartner and John Koster, who is running for Congress in the 1st District.

Before the rally, Democrats held a news conference of their own outside the hotel.

Marko Liias, one of six openly gay members of the Legislature, highlighted Christie's recent veto of same-sex-marriage legislation in New Jersey, as well as his opposition to abortion rights.

"Christie's record in New Jersey has been nothing short of a disaster for women and gays and lesbians," said Liias, D-Edmonds. "By standing with such a divisive figure, Rob McKenna is showing his true colors."

McKenna has said he will vote against a referendum on the November ballot that would legalize gay marriage.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said Christie's presence showed that McKenna is adopting the talking points of the national Republican Party.

Wilbur, the state party chairman, rejected that criticism. In an interview, he said he wanted to bring Christie here because he knew the governor would "get everybody fired up."

"He's been a reform-minded governor, much as Rob will be," Wilbur said. "He's popular, and he's going to help us raise some money."

After the rally, Christie and McKenna attended a pair of fundraisers, also in Bellevue.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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