Chris Christie’s biggest hurdle in weighing 2012 run: His own doubts

October 3, 2011

For months, one prominent Republican has been raising questions about whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has enough experience to make him ready to be president of the United States. As GOP voters await Christie’s decision on a 2012 bid for the White House, the critique is particularly poignant, given the Republican who has made it: Chris Christie.

“There has never been a day where I’ve felt like I’m over my head, I don’t know what to do, I’m lost,” Christie told the conservative magazine National Review in an interview in February. “I don’t know whether I’d feel the same way if I walked into the Oval Office a year and a half from now.”

A few months later, in an interview with CNN, he said: “I wouldn’t want to say, ‘I know I can win, I hope I’m ready.’ I’d rather say, ‘I know I’m ready, I hope I can win.’ ”

Despite his earlier misgivings, Christie is considering a run, responding to a strong push from party activists and donors to reverse himself.

If he changes his mind, party strategists say, Christie would face a series of logistical and political challenges, from raising millions of dollars to building an effective national campaign operation. But the biggest hurdle may be Christie’s own pronouncements about a potential run. Over the past year, he has repeatedly worried aloud about whether he is sufficiently prepared for the presidency.

“I think he knows himself, and he knows he’s not ready,” said John Avlon, who advised former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s 2008 campaign and now helps advise a nonpartisan group called No Labels. But Avlon suggested that not being ready may not be Christie’s only consideration. “Do you go if maybe it’s your time, but you’re not ready?” he said.

Christie aides would not comment publicly Monday on the governor’s thinking, and operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire said the governor’s team is not yet making moves to start building a campaign apparatus in those states.

“A compelling figure like Governor Christie could make a big impact,” said Mike Dennehy, who directed Sen. John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 campaigns in the Granite State. “There is a sizable portion of elected officials and activists who have yet to sign on with a candidate, but the time to influence them is rapidly closing, because it doesn’t happen overnight.”

But others say there is no clear path to the nomination for Christie. While he is conservative on many issues, his more moderate views on illegal immigration and gun control could hurt him among tea party conservatives.

Those factors could make it harder for Christie to win in Iowa and South Carolina, two key early states dominated by tea party members and evangelicals. In New Hampshire, he would face the challenge of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is well known there and relatively popular.

“The harder part for me is to figure out how he is going to win a state,” said Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist who stepped down earlier this year after having advised the presidential campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.). “If you don’t play well in the early states, it’s pretty hard to make the jump to Florida.”

But Christie seems more focused on another question: Could he do the job right now?

The musings of the typically confident Christie have raised doubts among Republicans who say that running for president requires a level of certainty Christie has not yet exhibited.

“I think you can get past the comments themselves,” said Matt Latimer, who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “But if he really means what he said, that’s a real problem. You shouldn’t run for president unless you are absolutely 100 percent committed to doing it, and he’s given no indication that he is.”

Staff writer Chris Cillizza contributed to this report.

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