By Mike Donohue | The Save Jersey Blog
I have been ruminating on the recent development here in Jersey wherein some NJ political folks have decided to show their support for Jeb Bush in the Republican Primary. I like Jeb. I actually met him many years ago after he gave a speech. He is a very smart and very sincere guy and would make a good President.
I’ve gone on record about how I feel that the candidacy of another Bush is not really where the Republican Party should be going. Of course, if Jeb is the nominee, I’ll do my small part to help him get elected. But this is a big “if” at this point, and we have a Jersey guy who is mulling a run. Not just any Jersey guy, but Chris Christie.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t like everything that the Governor has done politically. Much of it has been pragmatic; some of it has been inexplicable. But that is internal Republican-family stuff. None of it has led to a breaking point. When your quarterback throws an interception, you don’t go change uniforms and play for the other team in the second half.
The way I see it, there are two possible assessments of the would-be Christie Presidential candidacy. We can show a little faith. He ain’t a beauty but hey, he’s alright. Or, he’s a dud all stuck in the mud somewhere in the swaps of Jersey. How to decide between the two?
Well, take a step back.
Familiarity breeds contempt. We are very familiar, here at home, with the Guv. But before we were, we were enthralled with his ability to stand amidst a crowd of regular folks and offer answers to questions that seemed to come from a place where most politicians fear to tread. No calculation. No spin. “This is what I think; take it and like it…or don’t…but that’s it.” Christie retains this ability and he is putting it on display in New Hampshire right now. If one reads local New Hampshire news accounts, one can feel the electricity of those early Christie NJ townhalls again. Even here at home, in spite of valiant attempts, it is the exceedingly rare occasion that any aggressive, brave questioner gets one over on the Governor. He is still answering directly and frankly (some say “harshly,” but politics, especially geopolitics, ain’t paddy cake) and 99% of the time, he is coming out on the winning end in terms of the reaction from the crowd. He is still making “youtube moments” of a populist sort.
Placing ourselves in the shoes of the New Hampshire crowd, we experience for the first time the Christie straight talk, humor, insight, the planting of the flag on issues. (Contrast that with Hildwag who’s current answer on every issue is yesno). Taking our NJ-colored glasses off, we see that there is a legitimate prospect for Christie to get traction, even catch fire, in New Hampshire. If that happens, all bets are off and the Guv becomes a real contender in the Republican Primary.
Keeping the betting theme going, on the Christie campaign bus in 2009, when I was a candidate for State Assembly on the stump in District One with then gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie, I asked him how he was handling County Chairs and Legislators who weren’t jumping on the Christie for Governor 2009 bandwagon. His answer was, “I’m telling them to place their chips and see what happens.”
In the latest New Hampshire Republican Primary poll, all of the 12 prospective candidates tested pull a total of 70% of respondents. So, even with 12 people in the field 30% of New Hampshire voters don’t yet have a preference. Walker pulls only 12% of the vote. Bush pulls only 11%. By comparison, in May of 2007, McCain was pulling 30% of New Hampshire voters. In May of 2011, Romney was pulling 40% of New Hampshire voters. Something is happening in the Granite State: Voters are taking a wait-and-see approach. Very few are placing their chips on any one candidate. This leaves the field ripe for an insurgent campaign.
So, when Christie rolls into town and all the redemption he can offer is beneath his dirty hood, New Hampshire voters are apt to respond. If he can connect, he can take off. If Reagan was the Great Communicator, Christie is the Great Connector. No one in this field comes close to what he can do with a live crowd. Even townhall questioners with raw hatred in their hearts have come away from the exchange saying things like, “Well, I don’t like what he’s done, but at least he gave me a straight answer.”
Now, let’s come back to Jersey. A few in the NJ political set have decided to place their chips on a guy from Florida who stands at 11% in New Hampshire. There is a guy from Jersey who stands at 7%, practically within the margin of error. I’m not sure these numbers should compel anyone to be putting their chips on the Florida guy. By any calculus, the Jersey guy is a better campaigner and has greater populist appeal. It’s like he was born to run. His strength could be devastating in the face of all these odds. There is no doubt that Iowa has lost its luster. Just ask President Santorum.
New Hampshire is where it’s at again.
As I said, I like Jeb. I like Rubio. I think both would be good Presidents. But there is a Jersey guy within striking distance in New Hampshire and he hasn’t even gotten started yet. I’m keeping my chips on the home team. This is going to be fun to watch, so roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair.