As 2016 looms, Christie skirts hot-button issues

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As 2016 looms, Christie skirts hot-button issues
Former President Bill Clinton, right, shakes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's hand as he arrives on stage during the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Meeting in Chicago, Friday, June 14, 2013. Clinton and Christie spoke during a closing session titled "Cooperation and Collaboration: A Conversation on Leadership." (AP Photo/Scott Eisen)
In this July 15, 2014, photo, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reacts to host Jon Stewart during a taping of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," in New York. As Clinton promotes her book, liberals in the Democratic party are elbowing into the 2016 presidential conversation while pitching populist messages on the economy and immigration. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talks with reporters at the National Governors Association convention Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center, talks with members of the media at the National Governors Association convention Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton speaks at the World Bank May 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton joined others to speak about women's rights. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 24, 2014, file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering after he signed into law a bill that would extend the cap on arbitration awards to New Jersey's police and firefighters in front of the Statehouse Tuesday, June 24, 2014, in Trenton. Gov. Chris Christie's administration is facing an investigation into how it paid for a $1 billion repair of a New Jersey bridge. Two people said the investigation deals with whether funding for Pulaski Skyway repairs was misrepresented in bond documents by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles as she speaks at an event at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) to launch a community campaign to encourage parents to talk, sing and read to their young children in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (AP Photo)
BELMAR, NJ - MARCH 25: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a Town Hall Meeting with families affected by Superstorm Sandy at Belmar Borough Municipal Building on March 25, 2014 in Belmar, New Jersey. Christie talked about some of the programs the state is running for homeowners, as well as efforts to build and restore dunes along the coast this spring,The governor was not asked about the George Washington Bridge lane-closure (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waves to the media after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, speaks while former President Bill Clinton listens during the Clinton Global Initiative America's meeting, Friday, June 14, 2013, in Chicago. Clinton and Christie held a closing session titled "Cooperation and Collaboration: A Conversation on Leadership." (AP Photo/Scott Eisen)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 11: Martin Edlund (L) and Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attend Malaria No More's International Honors Gala honoring Hilary Clinton on November 11, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Malaria No More 2013)
BELMAR, NJ - MARCH 25: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a Town Hall Meeting with families affected by Superstorm Sandy at Belmar Borough Municipal Building on March 25, 2014 in Belmar, New Jersey. Christie talked about some of the programs the state is running for homeowners, as well as efforts to build and restore dunes along the coast this spring,The governor was not asked about the George Washington Bridge lane-closure (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gestures as he listens to a question as he addresses a gathering at Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center in Bridgewater, N.J., Wednesday, April 11, 2012. Days after returning from a trip to Israel, Christie met with Jewish leaders in New Jersey. Christie was in Jerusalem during Holy Week for a trade mission and tour. He then traveled to Jordan with his family before returning home on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
KEANSBURG, NJ - FEBRUARY 04: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a press conference with families affected by Superstorm Sandy at a lounge in the New Point Comfort Fire Company on February 4, 2014 in Keansburg, New Jersey. Christie, whose governorship is being threatened by a scandal is facing federal investigation over use of Sandy funds. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 06: Hillary Rodham Clinton, former United States Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady of the United States, arrives for the presentation of the German translation of her book 'Hard Choices' ('Entscheidungen' in German) at the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater on July 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
EWING, NJ - OCTOBER 30: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie updates members of the media on damage and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Sandy from the emergency operations center at State Police Headquarters on October 30, 2012 in Ewing, New Jersey. High winds and a massive storm surge caused major destruction to the Jersey Shore and throughout the Garden State. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 29: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie laughs while speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on March 29, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waits to speak at the World Bank May 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim joined others to speak about women's rights. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his wife Mary Pat Christie look on during the regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament between the Connecticut Huskies and the Iowa State Cyclones at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
BELMAR, NJ - MARCH 25: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie laughs during a Town Hall Meeting with families affected by Superstorm Sandy at Belmar Borough Municipal Building on March 25, 2014 in Belmar, New Jersey. Christie talked about some of the programs the state is running for homeowners, as well as efforts to build and restore dunes along the coast this spring,The governor was not asked about the George Washington Bridge lane-closure (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton arrives with France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at the Quai d'Orsay, in Paris, Monday, July 7, 2014. The former U.S. secretary of state was in Paris or the publication in France of her book “Hard Choices” which recounts her four years running American diplomacy. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius offered a reception in her honor. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton bows in response to Vannak Anan Prum of Cambodia, before presenting him with a plaque for his work to end human trafficking, during the release of the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Prum was held captive on a Thai fishing boat from 2005 to 2009 in slave-like conditions. He escaped by jumping overboard and swimming four kilometers off of Malaysian Borneo. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative America's meeting in Chicago, Friday, June 14, 2013, as former President Bill Clinton listens. Christie is walking a political tightrope as he charts his future, trying to balancer his re-election campaign in a Democratic-leaning state with a potential presidential bid aimed at winning over Republicans. Clinton and Christie held a closing session titled "Cooperation and Collaboration: A Conversation on Leadership." (AP Photo/Scott Eisen)
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds her new book "Hard Choices" before a book signing at Northshire Bookstore on Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Clinton is making selected stops to promote her book about her four years heading the State Department under President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives to a signing of her book "Hard Choices", Thursday, July 17, 2014, in Ridgewood, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
FILE - This June 20, 2014, file photo shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority form in Washington. In advance of a potential 2016 presidential run, Christie has embraced a new signature issue, blasting the war on drugs as a trillion-dollar “failure.” He used his first major speech in front of an Evangelical conservative audience to again hammer the need for treatment over mass incarceration. (AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)
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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who bills himself as a say-what-I-think straight-talker, has been unusually silent recently on some hot-button national issues.

While other top Republicans have been quick to weigh in, Christie has side-stepped questions on the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling, immigration reform and Israel. Some suggest he's being careful - and letting others in the prospective GOP field for the 2016 presidential nomination get into early brawls.

New Jersey's Republican governor has repeatedly declined to offer his opinion on the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, which will allow some companies to opt out of paying for employees' contraception under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Asked the day after the decision whether the court decided correctly, Christie shrugged, "Who knows?"

"Why would I give an opinion on whether they're right or wrong?" he added during an appearance on CNBC. "In the end of the day, they did what they did."

A week later, Christie was again pressed, this time on the decision's local impact.

"It's just not something I'm all that concerned about," he told reporters.

It's not the only fiery issue the blunt-talking Christie has skirted in recent weeks, even as other high-profile Republicans mulling runs for the White House have eagerly weighed in. Rand Paul and Rick Perry, for example, brawled over foreign policy as the newly demure Christie toured Tennessee over the weekend, and on Thursday heads to politically important Iowa, as part of his duties heading the Republican Governors Association.

In Nashville, Tennessee, Christie gave strong but general, opinions on such matters as immigration and Washington gridlock. But asked for specifics, he offered equally terse refusals to elaborate.

On foreign policy, Christie said Obama should "be speaking firmly and forcefully on behalf of Israel" and condemning Hamas "in the strongest terms and with actions." But asked whether those actions should include the military, Christie punted: "I'm not going to give opinions on that, I'm not the president."

In June, Christie mocked a reporter in San Francisco for asking him to discuss his position on immigration after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's unexpected loss to a candidate who'd made the issue the focus of his campaign.

"I'm sure you'd love me to do that, and in fact, what I want to do in a flower warehouse, I want to give you a very complex answer behind a set of microphones on a contentious issue that's driving a debate all across the country. No, thank you," he replied.

Mike DuHaime, Christie's top political adviser, who also managed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid, said that Christie has been "completely unafraid to take on tough, controversial issues."

He pointed to Christie's decisions to cut education funding his first year in office, delay pension contributions in this year's budget and veto legislation that would have reduced gun magazine capacity, despite pleas from parents of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

"I would say it's a mischaracterization to cherry pick a couple of times where he basically says, 'Look, that's not something I have to deal with. I haven't thought about it, so I'm moving on,'" he said.

While Christie's camp insists he's as outspoken as ever, some observers see the dodges as part of a larger strategy by the governor to avoid weighing in on divisive national issues, especially with key constituencies like women and Latinos, as he mulls how to position himself in the crowded Republican primary field.

As failed candidates from blue states like former Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney quickly learned, if he runs, Christie will have to balance courting voters who lean far to the right of those he's used to while remaining competitive in the general election.

"To a great extent, he's avoiding addressing things he doesn't think he has to in the context of, we presume at the moment, him gearing up to run for president," said David Redlawsk, the director of the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, who has been following Christie for years.

Christie, who has been trying to move past ongoing investigations into lane closures near the busy George Washington Bridge last year that appear to have been politically motivated, "has to be really careful about not ticking off the Republican primary voters, who are very conservative, certainly much more conservative than New Jersey voters," Redlawsk added. "So he's got to tread a really careful line."

Chip Felkel, a longtime South Carolina Republican operative who worked on former President George W. Bush's two campaigns, said it was wise for Christie to take his time and avoid weighing in on issues that could come back to bite him.

"The roadside is littered with would-be candidates who stuck their foot in their mouth on issues that they regretted or not thinking through politically, ideologically or strategically how something they might weigh in on today would affect them," he said.

Like others, veteran New Hampshire strategist Michael Dennehy, who is already aligned with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said he was surprised by Christie's silence, especially considering his national role as chair of the RGA.

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