C&E: Christie has made it clear he has no intention of running for president, at least not in 2012. However, his recent Virginia Tea Party Patriots straw poll win suggests that conservatives are not listening to him.

Maffei: I think his prospects are very good if he wanted to run, but I take him at this word that he does not want to run. Obviously, his chances are good because people like the idea that someone is doing what they said they would do. Unfortunately, in today’s world, that is kind of unique.  

C&E: The Tea Partiers have been criticized recently for being too willing to sacrifice electoral prospects for ideological purity, as was the case with Christine O’Donnell’s Delaware Senate Primary win over the more electable Mike Castle. This straw poll win for Christie, however, suggests the Tea Party is willing to vote for a fiscally conservative, social moderate too.

Maffei: There are two scenarios there: One, not all Tea Party people are necessarily in the Republican party in positions where they can select a candidate, statutorily. Two, I don’t buy the proposition that the Tea Party peoples’ ideology is going to cost them votes. It seems to be just the opposite, they [Tea Partiers] have hit the nerve of the public and the establishment party candidates have not. I think the public is saying: “Can we have our money back?”

C&E: Christie is no Tea Party candidate. He endorsed Mike Castle over Christine O’Donnell. How would that impact his 2012 – or 2016 – prospects, if the Tea Party’s popularity trajectory remains the same as it is today?

Maffei: I think that if he were to run in ‘16 they would look at his record – his record is one of raining in spending, reducing taxes and doing something about the public pension situation. If he has a good fiscal record, they [conservatives and Tea Partiers] will support him. I think it is clear that people are willing to support him now because he is doing what he said he would do. The public is not holding New Jersey against him. In time, if he has a stronger record than he has now, it will only strengthen his position.

C&E: Christie will also face his most difficult primary contender in Mitt Romney, a fellow North Eastern Republican. Would that primary fight force both candidates to the right, and thus encounter the bulwark of a Sarah Palin-type candidate, for example, whom neither candidate is likely to get to the right of?

Maffei: I don’t think that is going to be the case. Chris has made it clear that he will not run in 2012. If that changes, Chris will become the North Eastern candidate, not Mitt Romney. Chris has the better record.  I think Chris has made it plain that Chris is Chris. What you see is what you get. I think even the Tea Party people are going to like what they see. Whether you are a Tea Party person or, for lack of a better term, a regular Republican or just an average American – I think people will look at performance and Chris has performed well to this point. I expect he will continue to perform well. That will carry him forward in any endeavor that he chooses to seek. Chris Christie is the real deal.

C&E: How much of an impact will the decision to cancel the new Hudson River Tunnel have on Mr. Christie’s local and national electoral prospects?

Maffei: I think he made the right decision. We don’t want a Big Dig in New Jersey and New York.

Russell Maffei is the former chairman of the Hudson County Republican Party and a member of the Chris Christie gubernatorial transition team. He is the former Municipal Chairman of the Jersey City GOP and former member of the Hudson County Board of Elections. 

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com