It may seem early, but not for the prognosticators of all stripes nor for the wheels of U.S. presidential election politics to start turning.
In fact, from all I read and hear, you’re late to the game if you don’t start laying the groundwork for a national campaign a couple years out, and that would be right about now.
New Jersey’s governor has been on a nationwide tour for Republican candidates these past number of weeks. He hit the road — or more accurately, the air, aboard GOP-paid chartered jets — for candidates from California to Ohio, to Illinois, to Michigan to, ahem, Iowa.
That stop really got tongues wagging, since the Hawkeye state holds the first presidential caucuses; in this case in February 2012. And it’s had early visits from the likes of Sara Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and other heavy hitting presidential aspirants of the Republican party, according to published reports. (Thanks, Josh).
And the governor’s travels aren’t generating buzz just here in Jersey. The political chatter picked up in intensity as a hungry 24-hour cable news cycle latched on. I looked up from my desk here in the newsroom at one point last week to see Gloria Borger on CNN pontificating above a
captioned headline that read “Christie for President?”
It’s been going like that in the media. The governor himself disavows any interest at all (and that goes for v.p., too, he adds) and says he wouldn’t run if the gods of the Republican party demanded it of him or if they sent a team of angels to fly him off to the party’s national convention in 2012 and were to “anoint” him. (I don’t know which I’d prefer, some high-flyin’ angels or the chartered jet with plenty of leg room and no delays).
But what else could he say?
He’s still got to govern the great state of New Jersey with all its problems and its 8-plus million souls. And he’s on something of a roll here at home in terms of keeping the Democrats back on their heels; who are playing defense much of the time. And if the governor were to concede even the slightest interest, opponents could knock him for each and every step he took as being viewed through the prism of an interest in attaining the highest office in the land and not tending to the highest office in Jersey.
That, and the former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey was only sworn into office for a first term a scant 9 months ago (his only previous elective office was a blink in time back in the ’90s as a Morris County freeholder); so any other answer would likely smack of hubris even from a governor who’s not known to be, shall we say, bashful.
Still, the pundits say he’s flirting and who could blame him? You’re the darling of a combative, if somewhat divided it appears from this vantage point, national Republican party on the rise. The red carpet treatment, one imagines, can be captivating if not intoxicating, with all those flashbulbs popping and klieg lights shining. Why not bat some eyelashes that way.
Last Friday, the Virginia Tea Party at a convention it billed on its website as that party’s biggest in the nation, voted Christie as their pick for president ahead of those same early Iowa stumpers with names like Palin and Gingrich. In fact, he was the top vote getter, his 14 percent edging runner-up Palin by a half-point. That got national press, too.
I haven’t called the governor’s office — or the Republican State Committee that’s been handling all Christie’s political doings — on this; but I’m pretty sure the governor didn’t throw his hat into that particular ring and that it instead was tossed in for him. Then again, you never know and wouldn’t be told if that were the case anyway.
And his poll numbers at home are still holding up very well. The respected FDU-PublicMind poll out yesterday shows his approval ratings at 51 percent against just 37 percent disapproving. That’s a place that I understand any statewide or national political figure would be comfortable with, especially one who’s spent his first nine months talking about pretty much nothing but cutting, cutting and then cutting some more. And in a “blue state” where the sitting Democratic president is polling at 57 percent.
But there are rumblings of trouble. An October 5 Rutgers Eagleton Poll was headlined “New Jerseyans to Gov. Christie: Stay Home, Attend to Our Issues.”
That poll found almost two of three New Jerseyans or 64 percent want Christie to stay home and deal with the state’s myriad problems; while just one in four or 24 percent support his travels. The governor tore into that one, denouncing the poll itself as unreliable and noting the irony that most of those surveyed who reported that they’d like him to stay closer to home also oppose his policies. So, Christie reasoned, wouldn’t they prefer he be out-of-state rather than in-state doing his job, or making mischief, as they may see it?
After all, in one of his last forays back to Jersey he killed the biggest public transit project in the nation saying the state couldn’t afford the overruns on the multi-billion dollar ARC rail tunnel project under the Hudson. Of course, within 24 hours, no less a figure than U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was at Christie’s doorstep, asking him to reconsider. The governor said he’d give it another two weeks. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Christie’s national profile (and word that this would burnish credentials of fiscal conservatism) served as part catalyst at least for the visit from an Obama cabinet officer.
Another criticism of the governor’s political wanderlust came from within his own ranks when former state Sen. Hank McNamara, Republican of Bergen County, wrote in a column for The Record late last month that the governor should be careful in listening to the sirens of the Republican party calling him from afar.
McNamara recalled that former Republican Gov. Tom Kean, who Christie has long called a mentor, suffered in his job approval ratings among key independent voters back home after delivering the 1988 keynote address at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans.
And McNamara ties Christie Whitman’s tough re-election bid against Democrat Jim McGreevey to her time playing on the national stage back in the mid-1990s and a backlash from some of those same independent-minded voters who saw her as too partisan.
Then McNamara added this of Christie’s travels: “No matter what our governor says, he is going out on the road for days to campaign for out-of-state Republican office seekers. He is politicking on our time.”
NJN News State House Correspondent Zachary Fink asked Christie about this in Ohio; and the governor bristled.
He’s not used to being chided by other Republicans; particularly mainstreamers from his home state and certainly not in print. One can only imagine the cooler McNamara’s been relegated to for crossing Christie.
And Gov. Christie presses on. His schedule for tomorrow has him in Connecticut stumping for the GOP gubernatorial candidate there.
He continues to be in high demand in a midterm congressional election that Republicans are seeing as a mid-1990s Contract with America redux.
He’s mostly helping other would-be governors; though he does stump for the odd Congressional candidate as well.
If the GOP does as well as they think they may do in State Houses and Congressional elections around the country, New Jersey’s governor will surely share in some of the glow of victory. But should the many candidates do poorly, you’d have to think that that would just as surely count against him.
Not that New Jersey’s governor could move these races one way or the other. But you know if they tilt largely in favor of the Republicans the governor’s campaigned for, that can only bolster his already stellar standing in the national party.
And while these things in politics, as in life, have shown themselves to be all too fickle and fleeting; the call of the sirens would surely get louder and all the more alluring.