LINDEN, N.J. (AP) — Under fire for campaigning for Donald Trump rather than attending a New Jersey state trooper's funeral, Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that he would have gone to a school groundbreaking instead of the funeral even if he had been in the state.
Christie said he and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno decided before Trump invited him to campaign that she would attend the funeral Monday, saying they regularly divide up such duties.
"I understand that no matter what, I will be criticized— that's fine," Christie said. "But it's no different from what we've done before."
Speaking at a food delivery company to highlight the state's falling unemployment rate, Christie sought to turn attention back to state issues after finding himself in the unflattering national political spotlight for the second time since endorsing the billionaire GOP front-runner.
The cover of Tuesday's Daily News of New York showed the governor next to a headline, "Christie's Dead Cop Dis."
Four state troopers have died in car accidents since Christie took office; he attended the funerals for both who died before he announced his presidential campaign, giving one a eulogy, and missed both afterward. He also did not attend a January funeral for a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer who died in an accident.
"We did not expect someone who has consistently shown disdain for law enforcement to pay his respects to the (Trooper Sean) Cullen and State Police family," said Chris Burgos, the head of the state troopers' union, which has fought bitterly with Christie in court over public pensions.
On Monday, Christie ordered flags to half-staff in New Jersey and in a statement Friday called Cullen a "loving and devoted father, son and brother whose memory will live in in this hearts of his family."
On the campaign trail, the governor got swept up in Trump's attacks on fellow candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who he criticized for spending time out of state. Trump used Christie's reputation for spending time in New Hampshire to make the point to Ohio voters that their governor had spent even more time there.
"I hated to do that, but I had to make my point," Trump said.
Christie on Tuesday said Trump was just joking.
Christie was also pictured at a rain-dampened air hangar in Ohio next to Trump, who was holding an umbrella over himself.
"I'm not an umbrella user unless it's pouring rain," Christie said.
On Super Tuesday, Christie was widely mocked online for his blank stare while standing behind Trump during a news conference. He later said he wasn't being held hostage, as some joked, and that's just what standing behind someone looks like.
Christie has said he's backing Trump because he has the best chance of beating Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in November's general election. Christie has seen his ratings at home fall further in polling since the endorsement.
"I think that what we see here is a guy — the governor — really attempting to ingratiate himself with Donald Trump doing everything he can including taking a political hit in his home state, but still he's getting wet, outside the umbrella," said Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison.
On Tuesday, an editorial in the Star-Ledger, one of the nine New Jersey papers that have called for Christie's resignation, demanded the governor repay the state for the cost of his state security detail while traveling on behalf of Trump. Also Tuesday, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop — an expected 2017 gubernatorial candidate — launched a website calling on Christie to step down.
"I could care less," he said Tuesday. "I'm not resigning."
Associated Press writer Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton contributed to this story.