In early October, Governor Chris Christie gave a major speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Some thought that speech might be his way of paving the road for his presidential candidacy. However, shortly thereafter, Christie put an exclamation point on his previous denials with a final press conference announcing he would not run for president in 2012. A week later, Christie was back before the press this time endorsing someone for president. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the man who fell short in 2008 and finished second in New Jersey amongst Republicans, was his choice for this cycle. The two moderate men from the northeast seem to be fairly similar on several issues and it would not be long before Christie was hitting the campaign trail in order to get Romney more attention and more importantly, more votes and campaign cash.
Quick to put his endorsement to use, Christie headed up to New Hampshire and Boston right after the New Jersey’s state elections. The timing for Christie allowed him some exit from the state in the initial 24 hours after his party failed to budge either majority in the State Legislature held by Democrats. As outlined by Ryan Williams, spokesman for Romney in New Hampshire,
“He (Christie) will rally volunteers at a phone bank at our New Hampshire headquarters in Manchester. Then he will attend a house party at the home of a former state Republican chairman. Our campaign is honored to have Gov. Christie in New Hampshire to talk to voters about why Mitt Romney is the best candidate to fix our economy and defeat President Obama in 2012.”
Romney was not with Christie during either stop as he was out in Michigan for one of the numerous Republican presidential debates.
The Democratic National Committee was fast to respond to Christie’s appearance. Melanie Russell, a spokesman for the DNC, went after Christie’s record and what that meant for voters who might consider Romney. As Russell would elaborate,
“This is nothing more than a current governor who failed to create jobs campaigning on behalf of a former governor who failed to create jobs and who famously wanted to let Detroit go bankrupt. Chris Christie and Mitt Romney are like two peas in a pod, supporting policies that do nothing to increase economic security for middle class families.”
While Ray Buckley, New Hampshire’s Democratic chairman, expressed,
“Romney and Christie support policies that would do nothing to increase economic security of middle-class Granite State families. Granite State voters will reject those out-of-touch policies, just like voters across the country rejected similar far-right policies in (Wednesday) night’s elections.”
Christie, while on the stump, voiced his strong for Romney with:
“I think as the campaign continues to go on, I think it becomes clearer and clearer that Gov. Romney is the strongest candidate for the Republican party to take on President Obama. He’s the guy who’s not going to be caught off by the ups and downs that happen in a campaign. He’s been through it before, he’s got a plan and a vision for America. He’s the guy who’s going to be the adult, the grown up on stage, who is going to give the well thought out answers and put forward the good plan. This is about the president and his record and Gov. Romney’s vision for the future.”
Christie continued to lobby hard for Romney shortly after in Florida, a key battleground state. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich began to capitalize on the baggage that began to weigh down former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain’s candidacy; a candidacy that ultimately would be ended short due to that excessive baggage. In Florida, in particular, Gingrich was starting to build real traction and starting to separate himself from Romney and others. Christie, looking to put poll numbers into perspective while also building a case for Romney, would state;
“These Gingrich poll numbers are as solid as the Cain numbers were, as solid as the Perry numbers were, as solid as the Bachmann numbers were.”
After his Florida trip, Christie turned his attention to Iowa about a month before caucus voters would be deciding on the first official contest of the 2012 GOP primary cycle. Christie stopped in West Des Moines to rally supporters for Romney at a time when it looked like Gingrich was starting to pose a threat to Romney there and in the early primary contests overall. However, as Christie stated in Florida; other candidates have posed a similar threat to only fall back. But, the closer it gets to 2012 and Iowa; the more serious frontrunners ahead of Romney become for supporters like Christie. Besides Gingrich, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX14) has been surging in Iowa and could also upstage Romney putting him as far back as third in an important early test. Romney invested much more energy and attention in Iowa in 2008 to fall short to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. In an effort to use his resources as effectively as possible, he is having operatives like Christie do some legwork in the Hawkeye State; but will not be upset if he loses there again as he is more focused on New Hampshire a few days after.
One of Christie’s strengths in his short time as governor has been his ability to draw many Republican supporters to fundraisers. With that said, Christie organized a fundraiser for Romney on December 12th. The big ticket event held in Parsippany ranged from $500 a ticket to over $25,000. In anticipation for it, Christie built up the hype by flatly going so far as to say;
“Almost every significant player in the Republican Party of New Jersey will be endorsing… Mitt Romney. If I were concerned about Newt Gingrich, I’d have had to be concerned about Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, and Rick Perry, all of whom held similar leads to the leads speaker Gingrich holds now over Gov. Romney in various states,” said Christie. “In the end no one has voted yet, and when people start to vote I think they’ll decide Gov. Romney is the person who is best going to serve our party and is the absolute best person to defeat President Obama next November.”
Christie might have been making a bold prediction, but by night’s end; Romney had picked up over $1 million for fundraising along with the endorsements of all 21 county chairmen, 14 of the 16 Republican state Senators, and 27 of the 33 GOP Assembly members. The night’s event was seen as the major kickoff event for Romney in the Garden State in anticipation for 2012.
Last week, Christie followed his fundraiser for Romney with an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, where he was not pulling any punches regarding his feelings about President Obama. After highlighting his accomplishments and stances during his two years in office, he targeted Obama by voicing;
“(President Obama is) probably the weakest president I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’ve had to face much tougher things in New Jersey from a political perspective than he has.”
His criticism was not only saved for President Obama, but for Gingrich as well. As he would continue during his interview,
“He (Gingrich) was very unpopular in New Jersey even back then (when he was the Speaker of the House from 1995-1999). I think people saw him as uncompromising and incendiary when he was speaker.”
Finally, he opened up about some of his opinions on Romney by uttering,
“Do I wish that Mitt would be a little edgier and a little bolder? Sure. I’ve told him that and he knows that I feel that way. He is who he is.”
As the Iowa Caucus nears, it seems that at least in New Jersey that Christie’s campaign efforts for Romney are paying off. After touting a long list of the vast majority of the state’s Republicans lining up behind Romney, Republican voters are filing behind Romney more than any other GOP choice for 2012. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll of 260 Republican and Republican-leaning Independent voters shows Romney leading Gingrich by a 28-20 margin. Congressman Paul is a distant third with 5%. Paul could pull off a major victory in Iowa, but likely will be a non-factor when New Jersey primary voters go to the polls in June. 37% of respondents have no preference amongst the Republicans. However, Romney still has a lot of work to do amongst voters as a whole in the state in order to defeat President Obama. According to the same poll, which involved 823 respondents; Obama leads Romney with 51-32 advantage. Romney does perform much better than Gingrich or Paul among the same respondents. Obama leads Gingrich with a 54-27 advantage and Paul with a 50-29 advantage. The polls reveal Romney’s struggles as still being: 1) generating enough support to pull away from the GOP pack and 2) generating enough support to warrant New Jerseyans selecting him over President Obama. For David Redlawsk, the director of the poll;
“Several months ago we asked whether Obama deserves to be re-elected, and just about as many voters said no as yes. But faced with specific challengers, voters can focus, and they now prefer to re-elect the president. Voters are not very thrilled with Obama’s job performance, but they like him better than the Republican contenders. Obama’s strength reflects that New Jersey is still a Democratic state when it comes to presidential elections. Overcoming that for any Republican may be tough. Of course, the election is nearly a year away, and New Jersey voters have yet to become engaged in it. Once the Republicans have a nominee, we should expect to see things tighten.”
Before the year ends and days before Republican Iowa caucus voters decide on whom they want as their nominee, Christie is spending Friday traveling in the Hawkeye State in hopes of generating enough support for Romney to guarantee a top three finish next Tuesday; if not a potential surprise victory after falling short four years ago. Christie is sacrificing some downtime with family to sew up votes. Last year around this time, inclement weather struck the Garden State and Christie was away in Florida. He received much criticism; largely from Democrats in the state; for being absent during that time. It is very unlikely such circumstances will occur again, but any time he is away from the state; he faces the potential for criticism.
Speaking to those gathered in Des Moines on Friday, Christie came out strong for Romney and against President Obama by uttering;
“Let’s be real clear, President Barack Obama came out to Iowa three years ago and he talked to you about hope and change. Well let me tell you after three years of Obama, we are hopeless and changeless and we need Mitt Romney to bring us back, to bring America back. If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do for Mitt Romney on Tuesday. I will be back, Jersey-style, people. I will be back.”
Romney, who has been absent for some of Christie’s campaign stops, but was with him on Friday, voiced;
“We finally have to have someone go to Washington who will do what Chris Christie is doing in New Jersey, which is to finally bring sanity to the people there, to work across the aisle.”
As Christie continues to spend much time and energy traveling for Romney, some see his efforts as potentially harmful for his popularity amongst New Jerseyans. He could be seen as ignoring his responsibilities as governor. One such individual expressing those views is Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist and politico, who sees Christie’s efforts for Romney as a potential downfall for him in the Garden State. As he explained,
“The only thing that I caution — and I saw this with Christie Whitman,” said Rollins, who managed Whitman’s 1993 gubernatorial campaign. “New Jersey people want a governor who’s there doing the day to day. She ran around for four years being perceived by everyone as a Republican vice presidential candidate. I think that hurt her. Her re-election was very close.”