New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) again distinguished himself from other Republican governors looking to limit public workers' collective bargaining rights, saying he "loves" the process.

Christie has long targeted public employee unions, such as teachers unions, for many of the problems his state is facing. But he said at a Hillsborough, N.J., town hall meeting on Wednesday that he is enthusiastic about negotiating with the unions to work out their differences.

"In fact, I love collective bargaining," Christie told the audience. "We're ready to collectively bargain. Let's have it be real collective bargaining, where someone is in there representing the people who pay the bills."

That stance puts Christie at odds with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is looking to push anti-union legislation through the state Senate, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who saw his state Senate pass a similar bill Wednesday.

Christie has become a well-known national political figure and conservative darling in part for his tough talk against established interests within his state, including public unions.

But on this issue, Christie has stood apart from other conservatives. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a Tea Party favorite, said Wednesday that collective bargaining has no place in representative government, adding that public employee unions have an "insidious relationship" with Democrats. 

Christie said that despite his support for collective bargaining, he wants to get after the unions, which he said were too close with former Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

"Let me at them. Get me out of the cage and let me go," he said.


-- This post was updated at 10:21 a.m.