OXON HILL, Md. (CBSDC/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn’t mince words when criticizing President Barack Obama’s leadership.

Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, Christie slammed the president over the congressional “supercommittee” which was unable to find a way to reduce the national deficit.

“He knew they were doomed to failure, man that’s leadership isn’t it? If you’re a leader of the government and you see something about to go off the rails, what you decide to do is stay as far away from it as possible, well my question now is the same I had then, if that’s your attitude Mr. President, then what the hell are we paying you for?” Christie said.

Christie also took on Obama’s claim that there is an “income inequality problem” with the country.

“We don’t have an income inequality problem, we have an opportunity problem in this country because government’s trying to control the free market,” Christie stated.

The Republican governor ignored his administration’s recent troubles, but he showed flashes of the fighting spirit that has defined his political career in a speech to conservative activists gathered in suburban Washington, earning a standing ovation after a 15-minute speech in which he declared, “We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for.”

“The fact is, we’ve got to take these guys on directly,” Christie said.

He later called on party leaders and Tea Party leaders alike to “start talking about what we’re for and not what we’re against.”

Christie’s remarks come as dual investigations in New Jersey threaten to drag on for months. Authorities are looking into twin scandals — an alleged plot to manufacture traffic jams as political retribution by Christie loyalists and alleged threats by two members of his Cabinet to hold up a riverfront city’s storm recovery funds unless its mayor approved a favored redevelopment project.

Christie was among several potential presidential candidates scheduled to address the three-day conservative conference. Thursday’s speaking program also included Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Christie, who leads the Republican Governors Association, contrasted dysfunction in Washington against accomplishments by governors facing re-election tests this fall in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Florida. And he suggested that conservatives consider electability as they decide which candidates to support in the months leading up to the midterms.

“Please, let us come out of here resolved not only to stand for our principles, but let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again,” he said.

Conservatives have been reluctant to embrace Christie, who wasn’t invited to last year’s gathering in part because of lingering resentment over his embrace of Obama after Superstorm Sandy devastated the New Jersey coast in the heat of the last presidential contest.

Virginia-based conservative activist John Bloom held a sign outside the conference ballroom calling on attendees to walk out of the speech, referring to Christie as “Gov. Traffic Jam.”

A recent CBS News/New York Times Poll found that 31 percent of Republicans want Christie to run for the White House in 2016, while 41 percent said they would not want him to run.

American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas suggested that conservatives might be warming up to Christie because of the perception that Democrats and the media is “ganging up on him unfairly.”

“Most conservatives, whether Chris Christie is their favorite candidate or not, frankly feel compelled to reject those who are going after him for political motives,” Cardenas said. “Chris Christie has a wonderful opportunity to make the case to the activists who are here. But It’s really all on his shoulders. All we’re providing with him is a podium.”

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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