Keep an eye on Chris Christie

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - GE­ORGE F. WILL Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group

Iowa and New Hamp­shire to­gether have just 1.4 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, which is ac­tu­ally why it is fine for them to be­gin the pres­i­den­tial se­lec­tion process: Small states re­ward an un­der­dog’s retail pol­i­tics. Chris Christie rel­ishes such pol­i­tics and has fresh ev­i­dence that vot­ers are en­joy­ing his en­joy­ment.

Speak­ing re­cently by phone from his home away from home, New Hamp­shire, he said: “Peo­ple have re­mem­bered why they liked me in the first place.” His sat­u­ra­tion cam­paign­ing there has pro­duced a 55-point re­ver­sal of his fa­vor­able/un­fa­vor­able rat­ing in the Gran­ite State, from 16 points more un­fa­vor­able than fa­vor­able to 39 points more fa­vor­able than un­fa­vor­able. Ac­cord­ing to last week’s Des Moines Reg­is­ter/ Bloomberg poll, Christie’s fa­vor­a­bil­ity num­ber in Iowa is 51 per­cent, up from 29 per­cent in Au­gust, when his un­fa­vor­a­bil­ity num­ber was 59 per­cent.

Na­tion­ally, among all the Repub­li­can can­di­dates, the ABC/ Wash­ing­ton Post poll finds Christie’s fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ing “most im­proved,” from 35 per­cent last spring to 53 per­cent to­day. He gained among con­ser­va­tives (23 points), among Repub­li­cans gen­er­ally (18) and in­de­pen­dents (14). The lat­ter mat­ters be­cause, as David W. Brady of Stan­ford and the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion wrote last week in The Wall Street Jour­nal:

“The arith­metic is pretty sim­ple: 41 per­cent of vot­ers in the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion de­scribed them­selves as mod­er­ates, and 29 per­cent as in­de­pen­dents. Al­most all Repub­li­cans (93 per­cent) and self-de­scribed con­ser­va­tives (82 per­cent) voted for Mitt Rom­ney, but that wasn’t enough. Even if Mr. Rom­ney had won ev­ery Repub­li­can or con­ser­va­tive voter, it still wouldn’t have been enough. Be­cause there are roughly 5 per­cent more Democrats than Repub­li­cans, the GOP needs a solid ma­jor­ity of in­de­pen­dents to win a na­tional elec­tion. In 2012, Mitt Rom­ney out­polled Barack Obama among in­de­pen­dents, 50 per­cent to 45 per­cent. But that didn’t take him across the Elec­toral Col­lege fin­ish line.”

Christie has won twice statewide in a blue state that last voted for a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 1988. He cor­rectly says no ri­val for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion has been elected in a state so in­hos­pitable to Repub­li­cans. In New Jersey, 48 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers are un­af­fil­i­ated with ei­ther the Demo­cratic (32 per­cent) or Repub­li­can (20 per­cent) par­ties. Christie won re-elec­tion with 60 per­cent of the vote, in­clud­ing 57 per­cent of women, 51 per­cent of His­pan­ics and 21 per­cent of African-Amer­i­cans.

Christie might ben­e­fit from Don­ald Trump’s car­oms in this year’s political pin­ball ma­chine. In 2012, Repub­li­cans nom­i­nated a north­east­ern blue-state gov­er­nor, with un­sat­is­fac­tory re­sults. Christie, how­ever, might be an un-Rom­ney, con­nect­ing vis­cer­ally with vot­ers — es­pe­cially whites with­out col­lege ed­u­ca­tions — who in 2012 stayed away from the polls in droves.

Christie will cam­paign in Iowa for nine days be­fore the Feb. 1 cau­cuses. If they yield a cloudy re­sult — say, the top four fin­ish­ers clus­tered within four points — New Hamp­shire will be­come the scythe that re­duces the field. Christie plans to be “the last gov­er­nor stand­ing” when, af­ter South Carolina at the lat­est, he ex­pects for­mer Govs. Mike Huck­abee and Jeb Bush and cur­rent Gov. John Ka­sich to join cur­rent and for­mer Govs. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jin­dal, Ge­orge Pataki and Jim Gilmore on the side­lines. “I was not on the [de­bate] stage two months ago,” Christie says. He ex­pects to be at the cen­ter of the stage at the Cleve­land con­ven­tion.

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