December 10, 2015
In most respects, things are looking up for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. After months of trying to gain traction, he’s now a contender to finish as the top non-Trump in New Hampshire.
All those town hall campaign stops are paying off. From one of the being least popular candidates over the summer, Christie now has upper-tier favorability ratings in the Granite State.
Though his national polling remains feeble, only Marco Rubio among establishment-approved candidates is doing noticeably better. For whatever it’s worth, pundits are beginning to give Christie extra mind space.
For people who really want to get granular, polling cross-tabs show Christie is a popular second choice in New Hampshire and is even liked by some Trump voters. Should The Donald’s fans want someone with political experience to add to the bombast, Christie is ready.
So what could be wrong with this picture?
People at home don’t seem to like him very much these days. When the campaign began in earnest, Christie, who was easily re-elected in November 2013, was already upside-down.
By October, a Rutgers poll had his approval rating down to 39%. Not a good place to brag about your tenure from. Especially not when winning twice in a blue state is a big part of your pitch.
For the last several weeks, Christie’s pitch has continued to improve. Already comfortable contrasting himself with Hillary Clinton, the recent terror attacks have given Christie an opportunity to highlight his belief in enhanced surveillance.
Combined with his experience as a U.S. Attorney in the seven years after 9/11 and general attitude, it’s a winner for Republican primary voters. Often derided as being too moderate, Christie is starting to pick up support from self-described conservatives.
He even got the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsement. Though they don’t always pick the winner, they never pick a moderate. Getting their seal of approval is another indicator Christie could, if all the pieces fall just right, convince enough conservatives to support him to win nomination.
Unfortunately, he’s doing such a good job of sounding conservative that he’s continuing to lose support back in blue New Jersey. The latest Rutgers poll has him at 33% approval, down noticeably from October.
New Jersey Republicans aren’t as hateful. He’s now running second (behind the omipresent Trump) in Rutgers polling of primary voters (up to 14% from single digits). The problem is Republicans are outnumbered.
So, while Christie has done everything he possibly could have to pull himself back to the fringes of contention, his Garden State woes are sure to become a topic. The better he does among Republican primary voters, the more a majority of his constituents will object.
On the bright side, it’s unlikely his home state ratings will dip much further. As long as he can keep New Jersey conservatives on board, he’s near bottom. Still, the person wanting to become Last Governor Standing isn’t going to want to discuss his miserable metrics.
Jeb Bush left office in Florida as popular as Christie is unpopular. John Kasich is currently very well liked in Ohio. Those are at least Republican-leaning swing states, where it’s possible to stay afloat at home while campaigning as a Republican.
Near as I can tell, there’s no example of a president winning election from a state that strongly supports the other party. Many presidents have won election from swing states, some have won from states where their party is stronger.
The last GOP presidential victory in New Jersey was 1988. More importantly, from 1996 through 2012, the Republican candidate has finished between 8 and 15 points behind his national margin.
Governors run on their record. As it is, Christie’s record is mixed. While he’s avoided tax increases, job growth trails the national average and the state has faced multiple debt downgrades. In response, he argues “you should have seen what it looked like when I got here.”
Its a valid point, but Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and if necessary Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio will point out that if his own constituents aren’t grateful for him supposedly salvaging things, why should Americans vote for a repeat performance?
While this isn’t entirely fair, he still needs an answer. It looks like Christie is back on the main stage for the next debate and will likely get more air time. His train is leaving the station, but there’s an obstruction on the tracks ahead.
If Christie wants to beat the odds and get nominated and then beat them again to become a Republican president from a blue state (winning candidates also never lose their home state), he’ll need to find a way out of this trap.
Perhaps next November, he’ll get the support of New Jersey voters who want him out of office at home a year early.