2016 Campaign Checklist: Chris Christie
A look at preparations by Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., for a potential 2016 presidential campaign:
Nondenial denial: “Yes, and later.” – When asked if he’s thinking about running for president, and when he’ll decide, at a fiscal conference in Washington in May.
Book: Not yet, and it’s a notable gap, but there’s time.
Iowa visits: Yes, in 2012. Also in 2011 and 2012 to help U.S. Rep. Steve King raise money. More politically driven travel is clearly in the cards now that he’s chairman of Republican Governors Association for 2014 election year.
New Hampshire: Yes, three times in the 2012 campaign, endorsing Mitt Romney in a visit to the state, campaigning for him there in January 2012 and returning in September for Ovide Lamontagne, GOP nominee who lost governor’s race. Schmoozed with New Hampshire delegates at GOP convention. The day after his November 2013 re-election victory in New Jersey, the New Hampshire GOP announced the hiring of Christie’s regional director, Matt Mowers, as its executive director.
South Carolina: Yes, visited in 2012 to help Romney raise money.
Foreign travel: Yes. First official trip overseas was in July 2012, to Israel, then Jordan. Visited Western Wall, met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told him Israel and New Jersey are similar in size and population but New Jersey probably has “better neighbors.”
Meet the money: Yes, became GOP governors chairman in November 2013, giving him regular access to GOP’s top national donors as he helps raise money for candidates. Some big donors, though, question whether he’s still a viable prospect after scandal surfaced over politically motivated traffic tie-ups in New Jersey. Was among a handful of high-profile Republicans to meet with super donor Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas at his resort casino in late March. Went on an aggressive national fundraising tour in early 2013, courting GOP donors in New York City, the Washington area, Boston and Miami. Also raised money in Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas and California, where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted an event at his Palo Alto home.
Networking: Yes, broad outreach now as chairman of GOP governors group, a position that offers regular face time with top party officials and donors nationwide. March speech pleased activists at Conservative Political Action Conference, a group that did not invite him to speak last year because he’d been too chummy with President Barack Obama in Superstorm Sandy’s aftermath. Addressed Republican Jewish Coalition spring meeting in Las Vegas, spending a full day with top donors and GOP operatives. Also was keynote speaker at 2012 Republican National Convention. At Aspen Institute in July 2013, started spat with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., from afar, criticizing libertarians in the party. Invited to speak to Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference, but declined and instead appeared with Bill Clinton in Chicago to talk about disaster relief.
Hog the TV: Not so much these days. Last year, tended to avoid the usual sober circuit – most conspicuously, the Sunday news shows, although he appeared on four of them the day after his 2013 re-election – in favor of cutting up on late-night TV.
Do something: Won November 2013 re-election, becoming first Republican to earn more than 50 percent of the New Jersey vote in a quarter-century. Led state’s response to Superstorm Sandy. Agreed to expand state’s Medicaid program under Obama’s health law, while some other Republican governors have refused to do so. Vetoed a bill that would have sanctioned gay marriage, but declined to appeal a court ruling that legalized it. Signed law increasing pension and health costs for public workers.
Take a stand: Bridges partisan divide. Showed in disaster response that pragmatism trumped party labels, although questions arose later about whether politics played a part in recovery aid. In re-election, outperformed Republicans elsewhere among women and minority voters. Moderate stance could be a strength in a presidential election, although a weakness in striving for his party’s nomination, because accommodation is not what core constituencies of either party want to see. But he’s pleased some conservatives by taking on labor unions, voicing opposition to gay marriage and to abortion rights except in case of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.
Baggage: If you have to declare “I am not a bully,” you’ve got a problem. Christie apologized in January 2014 for highway lane closures near the George Washington Bridge apparently ordered by his aides as political retribution against a Democratic mayor who did not endorse him for re-election. He denied knowledge of the machinations. The episode deepened questions about what Christie, or at least those around him, will do to win, and took a toll in his popularity. Investigations are underway. Partial deflection: A nearly two-hour news conference packed with apologies, but it didn’t put questions to rest. One investigation cleared him but critics dismissed it as a whitewash because lawyers chosen by his own office conducted it.
Shadow campaign: RGA chairmanship allows him to grow his national profile with voters and party officials with regular travel and key appearances. Began building broad coalition of donors through his national fundraising tour in spring 2013. There were also “draft Christie” movements in Iowa and South Carolina in 2011, where activists continue to support him. Hired senior Romney media mind Russ Schriefer in late spring 2013. But the shadow of scandal still hangs over his shadow campaign.
Social media: More engaged in Twitter (“It was great to be able to visit with the owners of Rossi’s Rent-A-Rama in Ortley today”) than Facebook, where posts are by staff. No second-guessing himself in this post-election tweet: “if I walk away with 70 percent of my agenda, NJ is 70 percent better off than it would have been otherwise.”