There’s little doubt that Christie means what he says. But, is he whistling past the political graveyard by dismissing the prospect of a national bid next year?
A new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University shows Christie’s job approval ratings have dipped to their lowest point since he won the governorship in 2009. And, the history of Republicans winning statewide in New Jersey is spotty — at best.
Given that, there appears to be a real possibility that Christie passes on a 2012 presidential bid only to face a very tough reelection race in 2013. If he loses that race, his presidential prospects in 2016 — and beyond — would take a major hit. (See George Allen circa 2006.)
“There is no question Governor Christie finds himself at a moment in time where he would be extremely competitive to be the Republican nominee for president,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior GOP strategist and a New Jersey native. “The reality is that by passing on this chance he is choosing a very difficult reelection race for governor in New Jersey possibly against [Newark] Mayor [Cory] Booker.”
So should Christie be taking a more serious look at running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012?
Let’s start by breaking down where Christie stands in polling — and why.
The FDU poll released Tuesday morning painted a tough picture for Christie. Forty-four percent of those tested approved of the job he was doing while 44 percent disapproved. (Just a month ago, Christie had a 51 percent job approval rating in the FDU poll.) Christie’s unfavorable rating stood at 45 percent in the new FDU poll and a majority (55 percent) of voters said the state is headed off on the wrong track.
Christie allies note that the governor still has a 15 point net positive job approval rating among independents in the FDU poll, and that he has been hammered by millions of dollars in ads from the New Jersey Education Association over the last several months — a barrage that explains his slippage in the polls. (The NJEA ads bash Christie for a backing a “tax cut to millionaires, a back-door deal to reward the people who put him there.’’)
“Governor Christie doesn’t worry about his poll numbers,” said consultant Mike DuHaime. “Instead, he uses his political capital to achieve real results — spending cuts, property tax caps, pension and benefit reform — all with bipartisan support.”
Whether or not you put much stock in polling, the history of Republicans winning statewide race in New Jersey isn’t terribly encouraging for Christie’s chances.
The last Republican to carry the state at the presidential level was George H.W. Bush in 1988; he won the state with 56 percent over Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. In the five presidential election since then the Republican nominee has averaged just 41 percent of the vote in the Garden State.
Republicans have experienced more success at the gubernatorial level as they have held the governorship for 11 of the past 18 years. But, neither Christie in 2009 nor two-term Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 1993 or 1997 won a simple majority. The last Republican to do that was Gov. Tom Kean way back in 1985.
At the U.S. Senate level, no New Jersey Republican has won a race since Clifford Case way back in 1972.
Democrats are well aware of the state’s voting patterns and are already beginning to circle the governor’s race. Booker, the African American mayor of Newark, is seen as rising star nationally and is expected to make the leap to a statewide race either against Christie in 2013 or for a Senate seat if Frank Lautenberg (D) retires in 2014. (If you have not seen “Street Fight” — the documentary of Booker’s first race against then Mayor Sharpe James — you must go rent it. Like, now.)
But Booker is far from the only Democrat mentioned for the race. Reps. Frank Pallone, Rob Andrews and Bill Pascrell are mentioned as are state Senate president Stephen Sweeney and state Sen. Barbara Buono.
No run for president is a sure thing — or anything close to it. And despite the wide-open nature of the 2012 GOP field, people like former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty are already putting together formidable fundraising and early state operations.
But given the odds Christie could well face in New Jersey, a run for president could well seem like a smart strategic role of the dice as he looks to his political future.
Of course, Christie has staked his political brand on standing up to long odds and jumping into the presidential race to outrun the prospect of a home state loss isn’t in keeping with that image.
“Running for president because you’re fearful of not getting re-elected, after 16 months on the job, doesn’t seem or feel like something Chris Christie would do,” said New Jersey native and Republican consultant Brian Jones.
Christie seems set on passing on the presidential race and leaving his future in politics to the people of New Jersey in 2013. Time will tell if he made the right choice.