For more than a year, I have been suggesting in print and
on the air that the Republican candidate to watch in 2016
was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I wasn’t the only
one to say this, but I was one of the very, very few national
journalists to consistently predict that he would re-emerge in
the presidential campaign after the notorious “bridge scandal”
seemed to derail his presidential ambitions.
I did not ever say he would be the nominee, but I have
intuitively felt that his unquestionable (though sometimes
controversial) communication skills, combined with his
political resume, would make him a finalist in the contest once
it was underway in January, 2016.
For several months, his poll numbers have drifted in the very
low single digits and, except for noteworthy performances in
the television debates so far, he has lingered in the background
while Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush,
Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ted Cruz received the most
headlines and attention.
Presidential politics is primarily about timing, assuming that a
candidate has the basic skills, experience and temperament to
be president. Some describe this factor as “luck,” but I think it
is more a sense of timing, and knowing when and where to make
a successful move in the game.
While I have received “rolling eyes” from even some of my
most faithful and supportive readers during these months when
Mr. Christie remained clearly in the background, I knew from
many years of writing about presidential politics (since 1972)
that the temporary emergence and flare-ups of other
candidates was a gift to the Christie campaign. That’s because
it is always important to make the most significant moves only
when the actual voting begins.
Now, in mid-December, the real campaigns in Iowa, New
Hampshire and South Carolina (where the earliest voting will
take place) are beginning in earnest. While early frontrunners
Donald Trump and Ben Carson were exploiting the free media
phase of the presidential pre-campaign, Chris Christie went
to New Hampshire and campaigned the only way to be
successful in that first primary state --- hand to hand, village
to village, town meeting to town meeting.
And what was the result? Today, Governor Christie stands in
second place in New Hampshire, having dramatically risen
from 1% to low double digits. He has been endorsed the leading
and most influential newspaper in the state. He has restored
himself to the main debate stage (after being relegated to the
minor one where he stole the show). His strategy in New
Hampshire is now being repeated in Iowa, but it is New
Hampshire where has needed to shine all along.
After New Hampshire and Iowa, it is not clear that Mr. Christie
will emerge, along with Florida Senator Marco Rubio and
(possibly) Texas Senator Ted Cruz to grapple for the nomination.
It is also not clear when or if Donald Trump will continue to lead
the pack or fade, as Ben Carson and others have.
This is a most unusual presidential cycle so far. Anything can
happen. But, for now. Chris Christie is on the move.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.