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A Chris Christie groundswell? Maybe not

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Nearly six in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents either don’t want or don’t know if they want Chris Christie to run for president in 2012, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll — numbers that throw some cold water on the idea that the party is clamoring for the New Jersey governor to enter the race.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to make up his mind on a presidential bid this week. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Thirty-four percent of Republicans and GOP leaners in the survey said they preferred that Christie not run in 2012, while another 24 percent either didn’t know or had no opinion on the prospect of a Christie presidential bid. Forty-two percent said they would like to see Christie run in 2012.

To be clear, these numbers don’t make the case that Christie isn’t a figure of considerable interest for many Republicans. And the large “don’t know/no opinion” is due, at least in part, to the fact that Christie is simply not all that well known nationally yet.

But what the polling does suggest is that the idea that Christie would immediately catapult to the top of the field due to an overwhelming organic desire for his candidacy among GOP voters may be overstated.

That reality is backed up by the fact that Christie runs fourth in a hypothetical Republican primary ballot — behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (21 percent), businessman Herman Cain (14 percent) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (14 percent). Christie took 10 percent in the matchup.

The poll also provides a window into Christie’s potential base of support within the GOP if he runs. It’s Republican moderates, not the tea party crowd, who feel most positively about the idea of a Christie candidacy.

Forty-seven percent of moderate/liberal Republicans say they want to see Christie to run for president, while 30 percent prefer that he not. Self-identified conservatives were more circumspect, with 39 percent saying they’d like to see Christie in the race and 36 percent preferring that he stay out.

Those numbers suggest that if Christie does run, he could well hurt Romney more than Perry, as he would be competing for a piece of the establishment/moderate wing of the Republican Party, which the former Massachusetts governor currently controls.

There’s also evidence in the Post-ABC data, however, that Christie has plenty of room to grow. Forty-three percent of leaned Republicans say the more they hear about Christie the more they like him, while 23 percent said more information about the New Jersey governor makes them like him less.

Only businessman Herman Cain (47 percent know more/like more) scored better on that question than Christie. In a sign of trouble for Perry, just three in ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents like the Texas governor more as they find out more about him. Forty-four percent said the more they know, the less they like Perry.

Viewed broadly, the Post-ABC poll tells us that the Christie hype may be outrunning the Christie reality at the moment. Christie himself is undoubtedly trying to sort through this same dynamic at this very moment (when he’s not reading The Fix, of course).

Can he find a sweet — read: winning — spot somewhere between the hype and the reality?

Special election day in West Virginia: Voters head to the polls today in West Virginia to fill the final year of now-Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D) term as governor, and Republicans think they may pull off the upset.

Sources on both sides say recent polling has shown Republican Bill Maloney closing in during the final weeks of the campaign, and many are crediting a Republican Governors Association ad that links Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) to President Obama’s health-care bill.

For more on the blow-by-blow, top West Virginia political analyst Hoppy Kercheval breaks down today’s special election.

Brunner makes a splash early: After announcing his campaign on Monday, businessman and newly minted Missouri Senate candidate John Brunner (R) is wasting no time getting started.

Brunner is already launching his first ad, which ties Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to Obama and out-of-control spending in Washington.

Brunner is something of a wildcard in the race. With McCaskill looking vulnerable but neither Rep. Todd Akin or former state treasurer Sarah Steelman asserting themselves as the clear GOP frontrunner, there appears to be an opening for Brunner if he can run a good campaign.

One thing working in Brunner’s favor: He can self-fund. And indeed, the fact that he’s running ads so early in his campaign suggests he’s already invested some seed money.

Brunner’s campaign declined to disclose the size of the ad buy, which begins the same day Obama is visting the state.

Maryland map released: Maryland Democrats are looking to run longtime Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) out of a job with a congressional redistricting plan released late Money.

As the Post’s Ben Pershing and John Wagner report, the Democratic map would hand more conservative areas of Bartlett’s district off to freshman Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), creating a seventh Democratic-leaning district out of eight districts in the state.

Harris, of course, would be safe for the foreseeable future, but a 7-to-1 map would be pretty good for Democrats in Maryland, which is one of relatively few states where Democrats control all levers of the redistricting process.

Fixbits:

Romney will make a major foreign policy speech on Friday. And he’s vigorously defending the killing of al-Awlaki.

Obama responds to Christie’s speech: “If a guy’s thinking about running for president, he’s going to say a lot of stuff.”

Romney lodges some soft criticism at Perry for his hunting camp’s old name.

Bachmann parts ways with her pollster, Ed Goeas, and a top staffer returns to her congressional office. Neither is a good sign.

Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), who could face Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.) in a primary after redisricting, raised a strong $375,000 in the third quarter.

Hispanic Republican leaders in Florida are calling for the GOP presidential candidates to boycott a Univision-sponsored debate amid allegations that the head of the network tried to “extort” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) likes Christie a lot.

Tea party freshmen get their own tea party-esque primary challengers.

Must-reads:

Republicans see ‘golden opportunity’ in Obama’s jobs push” — Kim Geiger, Los Angeles Times

Chris Christie’s Best Reason to Run” — Mark McKinnon, Daily Beast

Christie’s moment” — John Heilemann, New York Magazine

E-Mails Reveal Early White House Worries Over Solyndra” — Eric Lipton and Matthew L. Wald, New York Times

Read more on PostPolitics.com

Perry slips, Cain rises in GOP bids, poll finds

Rick Perry built complicated record on matters of race over political career

Results of Washington Post-ABC News Poll

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