His Star Faded, Chris Christie Faces the Challenge of a More Modest Political Stage

In polls, voters disapproved of Mr. Christie’s adventure in presidential politics, and many now regard his homecoming with a combination of eye-rolling and trepidation.

Candice Watson, 30, a waitress who lives in Hoboken, said she was not looking forward to Mr. Christie turning his attention back to New Jersey.

“He’ll probably hold more news conferences bashing agencies for things people would’ve otherwise held him responsible for,” Ms. Watson said. “He’s generally represented as being a bully and a thug, that doesn’t sit well.”

In Trenton, Mr. Christie faces what appears to be the most difficult political environment since he took office in 2010. Democrats have a tight grip on both chambers of the State Legislature. Democratic leaders, who worked closely with Mr. Christie in his first term, have grown more adversarial, and accused him of neglecting state issues in order to advance policies that would appeal to conservative voters in the presidential primaries.

Mr. Christie is expected to grapple anew with the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. Two of Mr. Christie’s former associates, who were indicted on a charge of allegedly conspiring to create a crippling traffic jam as a form of political payback, are scheduled to go on trial in April, creating a potentially embarrassing spectacle as Mr. Christie presses an agenda in Trenton.

These days, that agenda is also in flux. Mr. Christie, who cannot run for re-election in 2017 because of term limits, said in his State of the State address that he intended to use his executive powers to aid charter schools in New Jersey, though he did not say precisely how. In the same speech, he proposed only one measure requiring action from the State Legislature, an abolition of New Jersey’s estate tax.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the governor, said that Mr. Christie had remained firmly in command of the state throughout his presidential campaign. “Partisan critics will always be that, but the reality is that the governor is always in charge, moving the agenda, and certainly instrumental in key accomplishments that have been done over the past weeks and months,” Mr. Roberts said.

There is a measure of optimism among New Jersey leaders that the end of Mr. Christie’s campaign might improve the political climate in Trenton. Republicans there have seen Democrats as excessively focused on undermining Mr. Christie as a national candidate; Democrats have complained that Mr. Christie has been unwilling to negotiate compromises that might attract criticism from his opponents in a Republican presidential primary.

There may be room now to wind down those tensions. Even toward the end of his campaign, Mr. Christie seemed to recover some of his footing as a negotiator, twice leaving the campaign trail in January to announce deals with Democratic leaders, on casino regulation and a plan to rescue Atlantic City’s failing finances.

State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, a veteran Democratic lawmaker who plans to run for governor, said it would be helpful to have Mr. Christie more focused on issues at home, but the exact implications would depend on Mr. Christie’s approach to the job, he said.

“Is he going to be trying to lay the groundwork for another presidential run, and therefore keep pushing his right-wing agenda that doesn’t sell very well in New Jersey?” Mr. Lesniak said. “Or is he going to go in the other direction, of showing he can get things done with a Democratic legislature?”

Mr. Lesniak added, speaking of Mr. Christie’s return, “I’m hoping it’s good for the state, because we certainly are floundering without a governor.”

Jon M. Bramnick, the Republican leader in the State Assembly, said he expected Mr. Christie to make priorities of the same set of issues that had defined his governorship from the start, which includes reform of the public pension system and reining in New Jersey’s tax and regulatory laws.

Mr. Bramnick, who is a close ally of the governor, said Mr. Christie would also serve as an impediment to Democratic efforts to pass laws catering to organized labor ahead of the 2017 elections.

“Chris Christie’s position has been, from Day 1, to do things to make New Jersey affordable andcompetitive, and, I would say, to block stupid stuff,” Mr. Bramnick said.

A few policy matters loom large over Mr. Christie’s return to Trenton. The state’s Transportation Trust Fund faces a funding crunch that will cut off spending for new projects this summer. Democrats have proposed raising the gas tax, perhaps as part of a larger deal that could reduce other state taxes. No longer wooing anti-tax activists in a national election, Mr. Christie could have more political space to arrange a compromise on the issue.

More difficult is the state’s costly public pension system, which Mr. Christie and state Democratic leaders sought to bring under control in his first term. A commission appointed by Mr. Christie last year proposed additional reforms to the system, but those ideas went nowhere in the State Legislature.

Democrats have recently pushed for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing pension payments to retired government workers, as a safeguard, they said, against Mr. Christie or another governor failing to fund the system in full. Mr. Christie has denounced Democratic efforts to offer such an amendment in a statewide referendum vote, and vowed in his State of the State address to vigorously fight it.

Toughest of all for Mr. Christie, however, may be regaining the personal popularity that gave him decisive leverage over his Democratic critics during his first few years in office. Mr. Christie, who won re-election with 60 percent of the vote in 2013, won positive marks from just a third of New Jersey voters in a December poll conducted by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

It is likely to be difficult — perhaps impossible — for Mr. Christie to revive the broad appeal he held in his first term, when voters seemed to view him as a sympathetic tough guy rather than a vindictive political boss.

Karen Lesley, a retired teacher, said she felt that Mr. Christie had cheated the people of New Jersey by spending so much time running for president. Ms. Lesley, 62, said she lived in a Fort Lee high-rise and had looked down on the massive traffic jam Mr. Christie’s associates created in September 2013.

“He’s AWOL,” she said. “I think he should give back his salary, give it back to the teachers that he took money from.”

But Shabab Shah, 22, said he expected Mr. Christie to bounce back from his setbacks in the presidential race. An automotive engineering student who lives in Jersey City, Mr. Shah said the governor had been a positive influence on the area.

“It doesn’t seem like he’s going to bum around, be bummed,” Mr. Shah said. “It seems like he’s going to be a better governor.”

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