On May 31, several prominent GOP donors from Iowa will make a pilgrimage to Trenton, New Jersey to court Gov. Chris Christie and ask him to reconsider his oft-stated intent not to run for president in 2012.
“There isn’t anyone like Chris Christie on the national scene for Republicans,” Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa energy executive who will be among those meeting with the governor, told the Associated Press. The Iowa delegation will include business leaders, developers, and entrepreneurs who were crucial to the 2010 victory of Iowa’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad.
Christie is popular among conservatives and inspires much more excitement among Republican primary voters than anyone in the present field of declared or prospective candidates. A Rasmussen Reports poll from May 3 showed that 30 percent of Republican primary voters would definitely vote for Gov. Christie, while only 26 percent said the same for Mitt Romney.
The governor has repeatedly denied that he intends to run in 2012, going so far as to facetiously threaten suicide if that is what it would take to quell speculation that he will ultimately run for president. His denials have, however, taken on a more muted tone in recent days; he told a Philadelphia radio station on Monday that he is “thrilled by” repeated requests that he run, but added, “I just don’t want to do it.”
“Christie will entertain the Iowa donors, but I don’t think it will change his decision-making process, nor will it change what Democrats think they need to do to keep him in check in New Jersey,” says Patrick Murray, director of the Polling Institute at New Jersey’s Monmouth University. “Running a presidential campaign would have a negative impact on his ability to get things done in New Jersey, and it could conceivably backfire if he takes his eye off the ball.”
Even if Christie wanted to run, he faces several problematic political issues at home that could scuttle a presidential campaign before it starts. Chief among them are ongoing battles with both the judicial and legislative branches of the state’s government.
Christie is currently locked in a standoff with the New Jersey Supreme Court, which has threatened to force him to reinstate $1.7 billion in constitutionally mandated school spending that was eliminated in the most recent budget. If the court forces the issue, Christie’s office has said that the governor may not comply. While a protracted face-off between Christie and the court may further endear him to the national Republican base, it could also alienate the support of independents and would certainly reduce his ability to push legislation through the legislature, both houses of which are controlled by Democrats.
When it comes to the legislature, Christie has already encountered a variety of problems getting his signature property tax reform package passed—only 25 percent of the proposed relief has become law. With the state’s property taxes already high and rising to an average annual bill of $7,576 per household, the governor will have to run on a spotty record of reform. Other Christie initiatives that have failed to win the support of the legislature are his plans to make lobbyists ineligible for state pensions and to place a cap on payouts to state employees for unused sick leave.
Garden State Democrats have been emboldened by the recent approval of their preferred redistricting map, which creates only a handful of competitive districts and is highly likely to allow them to retain control of the legislature over the next decade. They will only be further encouraged by a March 28 to April 4 Rutgers-Eagleton poll that found 65 percent of New Jersey voters were oppose to a Christie presidential run.
Nonetheless, given Christie’s position as a favorite among Republicans nationwide and a potential kingmaker for other aspiring Republican presidential nominees, meeting with the Iowa delegation will only increase his standing among Republican primary voters.
“If you are offered a position of power you are definitely not going to turn it down,” says Murray. “The fact that he has become such a high-profile Republican nationally is something that creates leverage for him personally and in his role as governor. It is a win-win situation.”
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. E-mail him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com