Will Christie’s 2014 GOP Campaign Role Enhance His 2016 Prospects?
Although he's not on any ballot this fall, the 2014 election season could be extremely important for Gov. Chris Christie if he plans a run for the White House in 2016.
As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie has traveled the country campaigning for GOP candidates. If a good number of those candidates win next month, Christie will have burnished his Republican bona fides in advance of the 2016 presidential race.
On the other hand, he could face criticism from his potential primary rivals if his RGA chairmanship yields little success next month.
According to the RGA, Christie has visited 30 of the 36 states that have a gubernatorial election this year. He has also raised almost $100 million, a record.
"One of the ways that Chris Christie wants to distinguish himself from all the other presidential aspirants in his party is by being the guy who can win. He is all about winning," said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. "If these Republicans in key states can find a way to victory in November, part of the credit is going to go to Chris Christie. He will certainly claim the credit."
According to realclearpolitics.com, recent polls last updated Tuesday showed that gubernatorial races are a toss-up in 12 of the states Christie has visited. Of the remaining states, four are "likely or leaning GOP." Five of the races are "likely or leaning Democrat." Eight states are considered "safe GOP," and one state is considered "safe Democrat."
Win or lose, Dworkin said there are three things that Christie benefits from, being the RGA chairman, that will help him greatly when and if he decides to announce that he's running for president.
"First, he gets to test out his message in different settings," Dworkin said.
One of the questions has always been: Is Chris Christie the kind of guy who will sell in Topeka? This is his chance to travel the country and try it out on different audiences and see where he has to tweak things."
"The second thing," Dworkin said, "is that he meets all the key players, fundraisers, operatives and politicians, local and statewide."
The third benefit for the governor is that he gets to collect IOUs, Dworkin said.
"If he helps these people win -- and even if they don't win -- they still owe him," he said. "They'll share their fundraising lists, they'll share their opinions about the political landscape, and anybody who wins is certainly going to owe Chris Christie for being the guy who helped them win."
There are several 2016 battleground states at play in gubernatorial elections this year. Doing well in those states could also give Christie's presidential hopes a boost. Realclearpolitics.com analyzed those states by compiling recent poll results. It's a break-even situation right now for Christie.
In Ohio, incumbent Republican John Kasich has a 22-point lead over his opponent. That race is safe for the GOP. In South Carolina, incumbent Nikki Haley is up by 14 points over her Democratic challenger. That race is labeled "likely or leaning" for the Republican. Iowa incumbent Terry Branstad leads his Democratic opponent by 18 points, and the race is considered safe for the GOP.
Democrats are also doing well in three key battleground states. California Gov. Jerry Brown is considered safe with a 20-point lead over his GOP challenger. In Pennsylvania, challenger Tom Wolf has an 11-point edge over Republican incumbent Tom Corbett in a race considered "likely or leaning" Democratic. In New Hampshire, Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan has an 8-point lead over her GOP opponent in a race labeled "leaning" Democratic.
The all-important state of Florida is currently too close to call in its gubernatorial race. Incumbent Republican Rick Scott is in a statistical dead heat with Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.
"Sometimes, winning the right states is more important than winning the most states," Dworkin said.
In his role as RGA chairman, Christie has not visited six states with 2014 gubernatorial elections: Alaska, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, South Dakota and Hawaii.