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Born to Run: the highs and lows of Christie Christie's governorship

Gov. Chris Christie has had an extraordinarily mercurial governorship in his eight years running New Jersey. While he's exiting with some of the lowest approval ratings of any recent governor, at one time he was anticipated to be the GOP's nominee for the 2016 presidential election.

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Sarah Jorgensen (CNN)
(CNN) — Gov. Chris Christie has had an extraordinarily mercurial governorship in his eight years running New Jersey. While he's exiting with some of the lowest approval ratings of any recent governor, at one time he was anticipated to be the GOP's nominee for the 2016 presidential election.

As he wraps up his tenure Tuesday, here are some of the highs and lows of Christie's time running New Jersey:

High: The GOP's newest darling

When Christie took office in 2010, after beating then-incumbent governor Jon Corzine, he was seen by many to be the future of the Republican party.

"He was tough, he was straight talking, he was the tough guy on your side," said Dr. Matthew Hale, an associate professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University.

The newly-minted governor gave high-profile speeches at the 2012 Republican Convention and in 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. A 2012 Time Magazine cover heralded him as "The Boss" -- both a reference to the governor's beloved Bruce Springsteen and burgeoning leadership role within the national Republican party.

"During his first term he redefined what the New Jersey governor meant to America," Hale said. "He was the guy who fought for us."

High: Hurricane Sandy response

Christie was widely hailed for his response to 2012's Superstorm Sandy, leading to an astonishing 77% approval rating among New Jersey residents after the storm.

The storm, which slammed the coast of New Jersey around Halloween in 2012, was the third costliest storm in US history and left a dozen people dead in Christie's home state. Christie's aggressive response and willingness to work across the aisle with then-President Barack Obama just ahead of the 2012 presidential election endeared him to Democrats and centrist Republicans alike.

"When you're governor of New Jersey, you take an oath. And the oath is not an oath to party, it's an oath of office. And my job was to make sure that when the President came there, I was courteous, I was respectful, and I asked him for the federal government's help," Christie told Fox News's Sean Hannity.

Christie also maintained he didn't believe he hurt the GOP candidate.

"First of all, I'll say that none of the polling information that's come out afterwards indicated that at all. Secondly, talk to Mitt Romney. Talk to Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney will tell you it didn't hurt him. He said the storm hurt him. I didn't hurt him," Christie said.

Yet that the bipartisan tone of Christie's response hurt him in his long-term national ambitions. "Many staunchly conservative Republicans viewed this as kind of a betrayal of the party," said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. "I don't think he was ever able to recover the cachet he had nationally after the storm."

Low: The Bridgegate scandal

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

It is hard to understate the impact that this eight-word email, written by Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly to Port Authority executive David Wildestein, and the ensuing scandal, investigation and trial had on Christie's governorship and national ambitions.

The scandal began when multiple lanes were closed unannounced and during peak commuting time in September 2013 on the George Washington Bridge, a main artery for commuters coming from New Jersey to New York City. Fingers began to point to Christie as the mastermind behind the shutdown in a form of political retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee, the city on the New Jersey side of the bridge. Christie has always maintained his innocence and was never charged, but two of his aides were found guilty in a federal case related to the scandal.

"Let me be clear once again, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them," Christie said after the first verdicts came down. "No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue."

Had Christie taken on Donald Trump in a less-crowded field, Hale says, he could've seen a great deal of success. "Without Bridgegate, he would've been president of the United States," Hale said.

Low: A failed run for president

In a crowded field of 17 Republican candidates for [resident, Christie struggled to gain a foothold. Once the favorite to win the nomination, Christie had focused much of his campaigning energy on the New Hampshire primary, only to come in sixth place.

Though he suspended his campaign after that loss, he reappeared on the trail later in 2016 to campaign for Trump.

"He did it because it furthered his own personal ambitions - he was seeking a Cabinet position," Harrison said. Rumors flew that Christie wanted to be attorney general, but the governor ended up on the outside of the Cabinet Room looking in.

Low: July 4 Government Shutdown -- and a beach day

The photos that sparked a thousand memes. Christie and his family visited the official governor's residence on the Jersey Shore, based in Island Beach State Park for July 4 weekend in 2017 -- an ordinary way to spend the holiday if the state park hadn't been closed to the public. In fact, all New Jersey state parks and beaches were closed, due to budget gridlock that led to a state government shutdown.

Stunning photos of Christie and his family alone on a wide stretch of beach, taken by NJ Advance Media from a helicopter, quickly went viral and prompted outrage from New Jerseyans who couldn't visit the beach for the holiday weekend.

High: Opioid crisis response

A major focus of the governor's final year in office following the presidential election was focused on combating the opioid crisis in New Jersey and on a national scale.

"175 people a day (dying) in America. A 9/11 every two and one-half weeks. I am proud that we have planted New Jersey's flag on the side of hope and treatment and recovery. We are truly leading the nation," Christie said in his farewell State of the State address last week.

Beyond efforts in New Jersey, which included new legislation that allows people to buy the anti-overdose drug Narcan without a prescription, Christie, as the chair of the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, pushed newly elected Trump to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

"Gov. Christie did prioritize this and dealt with it in a way that many other states still haven't yet," Harrison said. "And that will perhaps be the most positive aspect coming out of his legacy."

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