TRENTON, N.J. — It’s become the political equivalent of a wrestling cage match, pitting a brash, combative Republican governor against an equally crusty U.S. senator 39 years his senior.
When in front of a microphone, Gov. Chris Christie seldom resists an opportunity to throw punches at Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who has become his biggest Democratic antagonist. And vice versa.
The governor has called the senator a “partisan hack” and an “embarrassment” and, unafraid to touch the age issue, told the 88-year-old Lautenberg that it was time for him to retire.
Lautenberg has assailed Christie as “the name-calling governor” but also has responded in kind, including last year when he called the governor “the king of liars” in a speech to state Democrats
The escalating war of words suggests a genuine and lasting mutual dislike.
And the battle prompted an editorial Friday from the state’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger of Newark, appealing to both men to “put down their spitballs” and find a way to work together.
“The rivalry between Christie and Lautenberg has long since passed the point of silliness,” the newspaper said.
Lautenberg repeatedly has attacked Christie over a number of policies, such as the governor’s decision to tighten eligibility requirements in the state’s health care program, and his controversial plan to consolidate the state’s public universities, which the senator said was crafted with powerful special interests in mind, not students.
The bad blood goes back at least two years, to when Christie abandoned construction of the biggest public works project in America, a commuter rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York.
Lautenberg had thrown elbows in the Senate to secure $3 billion in federal funding for the project.
The decision seemed to surprise Lautenberg, but by the next day he was hopping mad, calling for a federal investigation into the cancellation of the tunnel and challenging Christie’s accounting of the project’s costs.