Chris Christie had been waiting more than a year for last Saturday night.
The endorsement of his presidential bid by the New Hampshire Union Leader, which came down in the heart of the Thanksgiving weekend, might not seem like a big deal for Christie (or the rest of the field) at first glance. But it at least has the potential to genuinely matter in the race.
Before I go any further, yes, snarky Twitter guy, I am aware that the Union Leader's track record of endorsing winning New Hampshire primary candidates is not stellar. (The paper backed Newt Gingrich in 2012; he finished a distant fourth.) And yes, I am also aware that newspaper endorsements generally don't mean a hell of a lot. (The "newspaper endorsement" ranks in the middle of the pack in the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy.)
But those two facts miss the point. I am not saying that Christie is going to win (or even place or show) in New Hampshire because of the Union-Leader endorsement. What I am saying is that the endorsement has the potential to foster a storyline that Christie is the new comeback kid in the Granite State.
The truth of Christie's candidacy is that from January 2014 — when the news that two of his top aides closing lanes of the George Washington Bridge as political payback against a local mayor — until about September (or so), the New Jersey governor had been simply trying to survive as a candidate. Bridgegate consumed all of the momentum Christie should have had coming off his successful stint as chairman of the Republican Governors Association in the 2o14 cycle. And it lingered. And lingered.
Even after it became clear that Christie's initial assertion that he had no clue about what his top aides were doing was accurate, he still felt like damaged goods to lots and lots of Republican voters and donors. In lieu of any other Christie narrative, the "he-blew-his-chance" one remained dominant.
Until earlier this month, that is, when Christie's very personal and very moving answer to a question about drug addiction during a townhall in New Hampshire went viral. Then came the Paris attacks and a refocusing of the Republican electorate on national security and terrorism.
Suddenly, the Christie storyline started to turn in a much more favorable direction for him. On Nov. 23, the New York Times wrote a story headlined "Chris Christie’s Bid Gains New Life as He Invokes 9/11 Amid Fear." A general sense that Christie was on the rise in New Hampshire began to take over (despite the fact that the actual poll numbers suggested not all that much had changed.)
It's into that context that the Union-Leader's endorsement of Christie landed. It's another data point that Christie and his allies can cite as tangible evidence that he is on the move in the Granite State. That no one saw the endorsements — or its timing — makes it all the better and more impactful for Christie.
Remember that much of politics is built on perception, a perception that can create new and altered realities. For months and months, Christie had the stink of a loser on him. His allies insisted the perception of his candidacy was far more negative than the on-the-ground reality, but they had a lot of trouble getting that message heard.
Then came Christie's viral video. Then Paris. And now the Union-Leader endorsement. Add them up and you get a chance — emphasis on chance — for Christie to write a new story of his campaign going forward. As much as people dislike losers, they l-o-v-e a comeback story, which is the space Christie is trying to get into right now. He probably has two weeks — up to and including the next Republican debate Dec. 15 in Las Vegas — to keep and build that momentum. (Sidebar: Christie could really use a poll — or polls — that bump him into the top three in New Hampshire; the Suffolk University poll that came out late last week showed him back in the pack at four percent, which isn't close to good enough for him.)
Chris Christie has been tramping around New Hampshire for the past year in hopes that he might earn a moment like the one he currently finds himself in. But now that his moment has come, can he make it matter?