Chris Christie in 2012 – Take Two
Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has tapped Beth Myers, his former chief of staff when he was governor of Massachusetts, to begin his search for a running mate. The early favorites continue to be Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman and, lately, Rick Santorum. Let’s add to the mix and throw in Chris Christie’s name. Why not? He has real assets though he is the fifth-ranked candidate giving 9-to-1 odds.
The temptation among the pundits and odds-makers is to typecast Christie as another New England/East Coast poll who compliments Romney and to assert that he does not bring a constituency critical to Romney’s success. Well, let’s look at that notion. But, first, a little context.
Last week, the straight-talking Christie said, “If Governor Romney comes to me and wants to talk about it (becoming his running mate), I’ll listen.” Why is Christie willing to listen to a pitch from Romney when he ruled out going for the nomination? Professional political courtesy is the obvious reason. But, does the wily (my description) former prosecutor see a flawed frontrunner that may need his help shoring up the conservative base? Romney still struggles to win devotion from conservatives.
Of course we don’t know what prompted Christie to go public, but it is worthwhile to some of us to explore what prompted the governor’s recent statement.
The upside for Christie as Romney’s running mate would be quite broad. First, if Romney succumbs to Obama in the fall election, Christie will likely have earned the plaudits of conservatives, white men, and several other elements of the GOP base, especially if post-election analyses show that strengths Christie exhibited during the campaign would be a real asset in 2016. The GOP elders would view him most likely as the heir apparent for the nod four years hence. If Christie acquits himself well on the campaign trail, he would not suffer the “Palin” curse in November should Romney not prevail over the President. That burden would devolve to Romney.
Of course, one could argue the case for Paul Ryan. Yes, Ryan is the current “wunderkind” that Romney has attached himself to at the hip. Ryan in the House is one thing; Ryan as the other half of the Romney ticket would offer the Democrats the perfect foil to portray Romney as the heartless, out-of-touch millionaire-who-would-be-president. Paul Ryan, as the architect of the infamous Ryan budget, currently engenders a great deal of controversy and his name on the ticket could polarize the electorate even further while possibly damaging Romney’s prospects for a crossover vote.
As an alternative to becoming Romney’s running mate, perhaps a stint as Majority Leader could prove beneficial (should Cantor succeed Boehner) if the Republicans retain their grip on the House. Ryan would then be the go-to guy for Christie in helping him leverage House support for Romney’s legislative agenda.
Second, Christie’s role as a running mate will be structured to maximize his considerable strengths. He might effectively counter the Biden “every-man, blue collar image” in the key states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
Third, Christie would certainly acquit himself well in a face-off with Biden touting his ability as a chief executive to make the tough and unpopular decisions while building consensus support from Democrats. Stated differently, as the popular Republican governor of a largely Democratic state, Christie may have standing among independents - without whose support Romney cannot win.
It gets better: Christie’s “big Bubba”, brash, in-your-face-tell-it-like-it-is image may endear him to working white males in the South where Mitt’s support is flagging, where Marco Rubio may be less credible, and Portman and Ryan coming off as policy wonks.
Although Gingrich was the real deal to southern conservatives, he is no longer a viable candidate and Romney has to devise a strategy to get them to the polls in November. Santorum might seal the deal for Romney in the South but his message is too narrow, too moral in tone, and women across the country, including Mississippi, do not accept his approach to women’s health and contraception.
During the southern primaries (Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, etc.), Romney consistently garnered the lion’s share of the vote among those in the $100,000 + income bracket. However, he lost to both Gingrich and Santorum among those southern voters earning less. Christie is not Gingrich nor is he Santorum, but he could have an appeal to working southerners that Romney does not.
This is important for Romney for another key reason – women. Romney may reduce the double-digit gap the President enjoys in support among women today and he will redouble his efforts to narrow it. If Christie can deliver the working white male vote while making inroads among independents and wavering Democrats, that might offset Romney’s losses among women voters.
We expect that Romney will tack to the center to improve his standing with Latinos but the heavy lift of shoring up the conservative base will devolve to Christie. Christie, meanwhile, increases his national exposure, strengthens his name recognition, and begins to lay the groundwork for a run in 2016 should Romney fail in November. Conversely, consider the prospect of a Romney legacy. Christie is young and four or eight years as veep solidifies his grip on the GOP nod when he decides to run for the White House.
What about Rubio? The Romney campaign and the RNC have already stated their intention to contest the Latino vote and smart money might believe that improves the odds for Rubio as a potential running mate. Rubio is Cuban, not Latino. The question we cannot answer is, Would Rubio have the standing to galvanize Latino support in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, California, Oregon and other states with sizeable Latino populations?
This is an admitted weakness of the Romney campaign. According to a December 2011 poll by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center, just 12 percent of Latino registered voters believe the GOP serves them best. Contrast that with 45 percent who prefer the Democratic Party. It is unclear if Christie can extend his appeal to this segment of the electorate.
Point of fact, Christie’s White House aspirations could be jeopardized if the GOP cannot fare better among a group expected to represent 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050 – perhaps earlier. Romney, meanwhile, has taken a hardline on immigration and Christie, were he the running mate, would have to walk a delicate line on this contentious issue.
Romney will have to balance the relative strengths of both men. There are, however, larger considerations (weaknesses) within the electorate for Romney that play to Christie’s strengths.
Some may argue that Christie is too large a bite for the urbane, patrician Romney to digest as a potential running mate. The New Jersey Governor’s larger-than-life style would overshadow that of Romney. We would argue that Romney wants to win – badly. The bet is he would make a pact with the devil if it improved his chances against the President. Romney would be president – not Christie. 2012 may be the swan song for Romney’s presidential ambitions so, for him, “it’s all in!”
Here is another reason to pair Romney and Christie: campaign style. Romney is gearing up for a “battle royal” during the coming campaign and he has demonstrated, ably, a willingness to go full tilt against the President without restraint or respect for facts and accuracy. Christie stages public events to burnish his image as a governor unafraid to mix it up with his vocal detractors and posts videos of his encounters on You-tube. Together, they could formidably punch and counter-punch with the Obama-Biden duo. A media industry obsessed with a good story might view this as one of the more exciting campaigns in recent memory.
Moreover, Christie as Romney’s running mate would excite the Sarah Palin Tea Partyers, bring Ann Coulter into ecstasy, and perhaps convince the NRA that Romney would not stray off their reservation. Earlier as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney, we believe, did favor some measure of gun control.
Wall Street and GOP traditionalists might take comfort in the prospect of less regulation during a Romney presidency and, they are confident any attempt by Democrats in the House and Senate to overturn Citizens United or offset the 5-4 balance on the Supreme Court, would be thwarted. Moreover, not to be diminished is the reality that some independents might feel they have an alternative to Obama: Christie on the ticket.
Friends and former colleagues are increasingly alarmed over the degree of disaffection among some of Obama’s supporters; those who say they will sit this one out even though they know that the alternative is a Romney presidency.
Chris Christie as a running mate to Mitt Romney may be against the odds, but it was worth a shot to take a second look.
At the end of the day, Christie may improve Romney’s chances to capture the White House. That is why the New Jersey Governor might be willing to listen if Romney comes calling.
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