New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is the rare politician who is both spontaneous and interactive with the media. There is no Obama-style idolatry by the media, but he does entertain them. Matt Katz, a reporter who has followed Christie around for years, writes:
Christie’s press conferences are meaty affairs, providing enough fodder for tweets, blog posts and weekend stories as he lingers long after his press secretary calls out “two more questions!” And his town hall meetings are masterful spectacles in political communication. New Jerseyans literally laugh and cry at these things. It all makes for great copy. Short end of the stick? Beside the fact that I too often found myself filing stories at rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike, this was one of the wildest rides in American journalism.
Christie might not get a break from the media in the 2016 campaign, but he will earn a disproportionate share of the coverage simply because he is the front-runner and he is amusing. Given the right-wing media’s antipathy toward a popular governor with a record of accomplishment and an emphasis on bipartisanship, he may wind up getting more favorable treatment in the mainstream press than among the most conservative outlets (the ones that thought the shutdown was a fine idea).
Poll released today confirm that Christie is the nominal front-runner in Iowa and runs the best against Democrat Hillary Clinton among GOP contenders in Ohio (where approval for Obama has hit rock bottom at 34 percent). Let’s not take early polling too seriously, since such polls are largely a function of name recognition. They do, nevertheless, highlight a few Christie-phenomena that will become more relevant when the campaign gets underway.
First, he benefits in places like Iowa where hard-liners carve up the most conservative part of the electorate. States that might be written off won’t and can’t be both because the “front-runner” is expected to compete everywhere, and because while the field is crowded, Christie nevertheless may have a plurality.
Second, the electorate and mainstream media’s take on Christie will be very different than the right-wing media’s characterization; the battle between the two visions — a popular can-do conservative vs. a squishy RINO — will help determine his success.
And finally, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) have a bigger following among Republicans inside the Beltway than outside; to succeed, they will have to significantly alter the negative perception many voters have. (In Ohio, for example, 24 percent of Republicans — and a plurality of 46 percent among all voters — don’t think Cruz will be a good president — tops in the field. Rand Paul is right behind with 21 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of all voters.)
The 2016 primary is three years off, but we can already see some of the respective challenges each candidate will face. It’s supremely ironic that tea party favorites Cruz and Paul have the most legwork to do with Republicans around the country, while Christie’s challenge will be to build a plurality while putting to rest the far right’s concerns. It should be rip-roaring fun.