By closing the door on a 2012 presidential bid, Gov. Chris Christie may have opened the window on Mitt Romney’s chances of winning the Republican nomination.
Even though Sarah Palin continues to flirt with jumping into the GOP nomination race, the Republican field now appears set, said Iowa GOP strategist Doug Gross.
“This makes people make choices,” he said Oct. 4. “It solidifies the field or else they were thinking there might be someone better over the fence.”
That, according to Donna Hoffman, an associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa, is likely to help Romney establish himself as the candidate who will run best against President Barack Obama.
He may not win over all of the “none of the above” Iowa Republicans before the first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses, Hoffman said about Romney, “But he survived the Bachmann onslaught and he’s surviving the Perry onslaught, so Romney may be the only game in town for mainstream Republicans.”
And that’s where a Christie candidacy may have done the most damage to Romney’s prospects, according to Gross. Christie’s appeal would have been to the same Main Street Republicans as Romney, but as a fresher, more aggressive challenger to the incumbent president.
To a large degree, Gross said, it sets up a mirror image of the 2008 GOP contest when there was one social conservative left standing after the Iowa GOP Straw Poll. Four years ago, Romney and other mainstream Republicans divided their support allowing Mike Huckabee to win the Iowa precinct caucuses.
This time there are multiple social conservatives leaving Romney and Perry to fight over mainstream Republicans, he said.
It may be premature for Romney to claim victory, according to Tim Hagle, who teaches political science at the University of Iowa. There may be time for Bachmann and Perry to get back on track and pizza magnate Herman Cain is climbing in the polls.
Bachmann, who was campaigning in Iowa Oct. 4, would have welcomed Christie to the race.
“I have such respect and admiration for him,” she said. “If he had wanted to jump in, I would have been delighted. I’ve met him before. I think he’s a wonderful guy. He’s a lot of fun.”
Hagle agrees with Hoffman that Christie’s departure will not have a major impact in Iowa. Despite entreaties to Christie by well-heeled Iowa GOP donors, Hagle doesn’t know how deep the support for the New Jersey governor was in Iowa.
“His name didn’t pop up in polls like Sarah Palin’s so we don’t know how much people, especially Iowans, really wanted Christie to jump into the race,” Hagle said.
For Iowa Republicans waiting for Palin to get into the race, Christie’s exit “doesn’t make any difference to Gov. Palin,” according to Peter Singleton of Organize 4 Palin. “It doesn’t make any difference to her grass roots.”
Christie has done a good job in making a “rhetorical case for limits on government, but his record is not that conservative,” Singleton said.
Given that Christie probably is more liberal than any of the current GOP presidential hopefuls, Hagle believes his appeal to the party’s base was as someone who could defeat President Obama.
If that’s the case, Iowa Republicans may shift to Romney for the same reason.
However, James Kersten of Fort Dodge, who was among a group of Iowans who encouraged Christie to run, said he doesn’t know which candidate he’ll support.
“I have to re-evaluate the candidates who have announced and see which one might best match the characteristics Gov. Christie has,” Kersten said. “He has characteristics I haven’t seen in a candidate since Ronald Reagan.”
Presidential campaigns often are a matter of timing, according to Robert Graham of Arizona, who headed the draft Christie campaign for Americans for Responsible Leadership.
“We don’t know what it will be like in next cycle,” Graham said, “but if they need a straight-talking, across-the-aisle, get it done sort of guy, Christie will be around.”
His decision not to seek the nomination doesn’t mean Christie can’t be tapped for other positions, added Bill Keetel, an Iowa City GOP activist. He called Christie’s decision a smart one for a number of reasons.
“If he were to change his mind after all these denials the story would be that he’s ‘wishy-washy,’” Keetel said. “There are several really good reason for not doing it now including that he has a goal to achieve in New Jersey, which might be achieved in another four years.”
Keetel said he admires Christie and his decision.
“It was a decision that was good for him and the party,” he said.
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