If so, it would be quite a coup for Chris Christie, the famously combative chief executive in the Garden State.  New Jersey hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since 1988, when George H. W. Bush won his only term in the White House.  Then again, the state hasn’t had a Republican governor with this kind of popularity in a very long time, either:

New Jersey voters still approve 59 – 36 percent of the job Christie is doing, his best score ever. Approval is 92 – 6 percent among Republicans and 64 – 32 percent among independent voters. Democrats disapprove 64 – 30 percent.

Christie is more of a leader, 54 percent of voters say, while 39 percent say he is more of a bully. …

New Jersey voters approve 58 – 35 percent of the way Christie is handling the state budget and support his proposed 10 percent across-the-board state income tax cut 54 – 32 percent.

This is even more impressive when one considers the advantages Democrats have in the state.  They control both chambers of the legislature by 3:2 ratios.  In the 2009 election that put Christie into office, Democrats had a ten-point advantage in the exit polling, 41/31/28, and Christie only won 8% of the Democratic vote.  His disapproval number is now lower than the Democratic turnout in that election, at 39%, although it’s within the margin of error in the survey.

Jammie Wearing Fool thinks this could put New Jersey in play for Republicans in the fall — and might convince Romney to pick him as a running mate:

There isn’t a Democrat in the state who could beat him in 2013 if he remains above 50%.  At the same time, such popularity in what’s normally a solid blue state for Democrats could encourage Romney to go with him as VP.

I’m skeptical about the running-mate idea, but it’s certainly possible.  Christie is more personally popular with conservatives in the GOP than Romney is, but his positions may not be once they get a thorough airing.  Also, while Christie’s combative style works well in New Jersey, it may not sell as well outside of the Garden State, and it might have the unintended effect of overshadowing the man at the top of the ticket.  Finally, putting another Northeastern moderate on the ticket doesn’t make for good regional politics, although it’s been argued that the need to consider geography in running-mate choices has declined in recent decades.  Bill Clinton and Al Gore were both Southerners, and they won two terms in office, as one example.

Whether this puts New Jersey in play is even murkier, but that might not be the point anyway.  Democrats probably wouldn’t spend money in the state under normal circumstances; thanks to the registration advantages they have, it should be a solidly blue state in national elections.  Christie’s popularity will force them to divert resources to protect the 14 electoral votes at risk, which gives them fewer options for other swing states.  And if New Jersey really is in play in 2012, that means that Barack Obama will be in serious trouble across a wide range of swing states.