New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie built his reputation on clashes with his state's public employee unions, so it may surprise non-Garden State residents that the Republican has built quite a following among other labor groups.

Christie did so by recognizing that unions can be a diverse bunch and then reaching out to those willing to listen.

Christie's famous YouTube confrontations with union members mainly feature him squaring off against teachers unions.

The story is completely different with private sector unions, especially the building and construction trades. Manhattan Institute scholar Steve Malanga gives the details in a Wall Street Journal article:

"Mr. Christie has secured labor support, especially among construction and trade unions, by emphasizing restraints on government spending, caps on tax increases, incentives for job creation, and vigorous rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. Jobs are crucial in a state with an 8.5% unemployment rate. Mr. Christie's message? 'In four years, what I've really cared about is how to get you guys back to work,' he told the International Union of Operating Engineers in June.

"The message resonates. When the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 102 endorsed the governor this year, 'It was an easy call,' said Patrick Delle Cava, the local's business manager. 'Our men love him.' He noted that the hours his members worked under the state's two previous Democratic governors slumped to three million in 2009 from 6.5 million in 2001. Since Mr. Christie took office in early 2010, workers have regained nearly half."

It is a strategy other Republicans might want to emulate. There are plenty of pro-free market, limited-government policy areas where the interests of many unions and the GOP overlap.

The long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline project would be one. So is the impact of Obamacare on union healthcare plans.

As Christie said in an August speech to the Republican National Committee: “We have an opportunity as a political party to drive a wedge in the union movement, and the laboratory where that's happening right now is in my state.”