A high-profile backer of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Thursday it’s “so important” that the former Massachusetts governor get off to a good start in Iowa, a state where he’s spent little time thus far but appears to be ramping up efforts.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke to potential caucus-goers in a telephone town hall meeting Thursday, touting Romney’s leadership ability and his chances of defeating President Barack Obama.
First, however, Romney needs to win the Republican nomination, and Christie told the Iowans they will play a central role in deciding that.
“It’s so important for Gov. Romney to get off to a good start here in Iowa,” Christie said. “You know, he’s worked hard over the last six years in Iowa, getting to know the folks there and letting them get to know him.”
A solid showing in Iowa, he added, would get Romney started toward not just the GOP nomination but a general election victory.
Christie’s remarks came the same day the Romney campaign began airing a new television ad in the state. The ad focuses on Romney’s role as a businessman and urges a cut in spending. Democrats took the occasion to launch criticism at Romney for failing to back an extension of the payroll tax holiday, something congressional Democrats and the White House are pushing.
“It’s odd that Mitt Romney seems willing to cut everything except taxes for the middle class,” said Sue Dvorsky, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.
In the teleconference, Christie said the Democrats’ continued attacks on Romney show that he’s the one they’re afraid of.
The roughly 35-minute session also served as a means for the Romney campaign to solicit precinct leaders for the Jan. 3 caucuses. A number of times, a moderator asked participants to press a key on their phones if they were interested in standing up for Romney at their caucus site.
Christie also sought to drum up interest in his visit to Des Moines next Wednesday, although it will undoubtedly draw a lot of attention. The New Jersey governor was heavily courted himself to run for the presidency, entreaties he eventually rejected.
In the conference call, Christie defended Romney’s record on health care, disputing the idea that it’s a model for the new federal health-care law. He noted that Romney didn’t raise taxes while enacting his plan.
He also answered a question about why he chose Romney over Texas Gov. Rick Perry by drawing attention to the presidential debates, where Perry has struggled.
“How people perform in those type of settings gives you a window into how they might perform when they’re sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office when the pressure comes and the difficult choices need to be made,” Christie said. “You have to be unaffected by the pressure.”
Perry had his own take on his debate performance, and perhaps on Romney, too. The campaign said it was airing a television ad to coincide with his appearance Thursday on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
In the ad, Perry pokes fun at his stumble in one of the debates in which he forgot one of the federal departments he would eliminate, but he adds, “If you want a slick debater, I’m obviously not your guy. But if you want to clean house in Washington with a balanced budget amendment, a flat tax and a part-time Congress, I’m your man.”
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