The governor's road show

Romney aides voice no quibbles with the travels of Gov. Christie, whose debate prediction was on target.
Romney aides voice no quibbles with the travels of Gov. Christie, whose debate prediction was on target. (AP)

Christie has been traveling far, but some wonder whom he's traveling for.

Posted: October 08, 2012

Since delivering the keynote speech at the Republican convention, Gov. Christie has been to Missouri, North Carolina, Iowa, Utah, New Hampshire, Indiana, Washington, Montana, and North Dakota.

Yes: Fargo, North Dakota.

You would think he must be flying the country stumping hard for Mitt Romney, whom he endorsed a year ago.

But he's not. His travels have mostly been to rally and raise cash for gubernatorial and Senate candidates.

Until Saturday, when he was headlining a Romney fund-raiser in Michigan, and Tuesday, when he's scheduled to rally for Romney in Ohio, Christie hadn't done a single campaign event for the presidential candidate since the convention. Precisely six weeks will have passed between the Christie keynote and his trip to Ohio for Romney.

What gives? The cynic wonders if Christie's keynote, in which he talked a lot about himself before finally mentioning the nominee, might have soured the Romney camp on using him as surrogate. The cynic also wonders if Christie is too busy laying the groundwork for his own presidential run in 2016.

But these hypotheses, as juicy as they are, are flatly rejected by both camps.

A senior Romney adviser, speaking from the site of last week's debate in Denver on the condition of anonymity, told my colleague Tom Fitzgerald that Christie has done everything the campaign has asked and has been "an effective surrogate."

The adviser allowed that Christie did get the Boston brain trust's attention when, on three Sunday talk shows, he predicted Romney would turn the race "upside down" in the first debate. But "Gov. Christie is his own man, and we respect that."

And it turns out, Christie's view was prescient, making him look fabulous. The prediction became mutually beneficial.

The Christie camp pointed to these TV appearances to prove that the governor is working hard for Romney. Christie has also talked up Romney at press conferences in New Jersey and at rallies for candidates.

Still, Christie is one of the most popular politicians the GOP has. Why not more swing-state rallies? Why no fund-raiser in the Philadelphia area, where an Inquirer poll found Christie had better name recognition than Pennsylvania's own governor, Tom Corbett?

The Romney campaign brought Corbett in for a news conference in Philadelphia last month, while a big-name surrogate, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), hit New Hampshire and Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) flew to North Carolina.

Christie's political guru, Mike DuHaime, traveling out west with the governor, said in a phone call that Christie is "in demand" to help many state races, causing scheduling challenges. As vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie has duties to campaign for gubernatorial candidates.

DuHaime also noted Christie's early endorsement of Romney last Oct. 11.

"He has done more for Gov. Romney than probably any other surrogate in the country, in terms of how early he was on and how many events he's done," DuHaime said. "I don't think anybody could question Gov. Christie's commitment to Gov. Romney."

But Gov. Christie is also committed to Gov. Christie.

Because stumping for candidates in places like Snohomish County, Wash., has its rewards. First, fund-raising help may boomerang back to Christie as a favor returned in his next race (or races).

Second, note some states he has visited: New Hampshire and Iowa, with traditionally early presidential primaries and caucuses. Missouri and Utah, tentatively home to 2016's first primaries, according to political scientist Josh Davidson's Frontloading HQ blog.

Getting in front of a local Republican crowd and being seen on local TV can help a presidential hopeful from New Jersey get a jump on name ID and likability.

Plus, if Romney loses, the gubernatorial candidates Christie is backing may be governors by 2016, with the power of persuasion over party faithful in what may be crowded GOP primaries.

In the meantime, New Jersey Democrats sense a vulnerability. They did a tally and found that in the year since announcing he wouldn't run for president, Christie has politicked in 24 states over 47 days.

"Christie didn't decline to run for president out of loyalty to our state," alleged John Wisniewski, state Democrats' chairman. "He made a political calculation to use his title and office to build a national political brand now in order to run for president in 2016."

Also in the cynics' club is University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, who believes Christie is "building up his chits for 2016."

The governor "ought to be hustling for Romney," Sabato said. Though both camps will "deny everything," Sabato said, the conclusion is clear: "Something's going on."

Contact Matt Katz

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