Christie picks up endorsements

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Christie picks up endorsements

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New Jersey Gov. Christie bagged key Iowa endorsements on Tuesday but still finds himself without a reservoir of support. 

By Brent Griffiths
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Facing lagging support in Iowa, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be hoping to rekindle some of the 2012 love that pulsed through segments of the Iowa GOP.

In the state capital on Monday, he officially unveiled six Iowa members of the fabled effort to draw him into the 2012 presidential race.

State Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said his support for Christie has only grown stronger after the two-term governor rebuffed him and others in 2011.

“The same reason that we flew to New Jersey in 2011 exists today and even in a greater way,” Rastetter said in a video of his remarks in Des Moines. “We have a country that is more in decline than what it was four years ago, is in more need for leadership in terms of bold and principled leadership than certainly what it was in 2011, and we have a governor who continues to be bold and direct in knowing what he thinks and also have more experience in governing since 2011 to create that much more positive opportunity for the country.”

In his capacity as a Rutgers professor and former University of Iowa faculty member, David Redlawsk has a unique insight into Christie’s politics. Redlawsk said the endorsements are helpful, but it is not the only factor to pay attention to.

“It is a signal to other money people that Christie is not out,” Redlawsk said. “It is signal that there is significant money behind him, it is a signal to people who already committed to a candidate, but if [that candidate] drops out that here is an alternative. Right now that matters, but that matters as least as much that [a candidate] builds a ground game.”

Christie came to Iowa and raised money as the head of the Republican Governors Association, which Redlawsk noted, could explain why Rastetter and others decided to re-up their support.

Rastetter, an agribusiness mogul, hosted the March Iowa Agriculture Summit that featured nine presidential hopefuls, has been a familiar face in recent news coverage. He has faced criticism over his role in the selection of businessman Bruce Harreld as the next president of the University of Iowa.

In announcing his support, Rastetter was joined by Denny Elwell, Gary Kirke, Mike Richards, Mikel Derby and Jim Kersten. The trio of Elwell, Kirke and Richards made their money in real estate, insurance, and the Wild Rose Casino respectively. Derby and Kersten both have worked in Gov. Terry Branstad’s orbit either in his administration or through his campaign.

News of their endorsements was first reported by the Des Moines Register over the weekend.

To understand the power of the group, one needs to look no further than campaign-finance reports for Republican candidates up and down the ballot in Iowa.

In 2014, Rastetter plunked down more than $97,000, and Elwell gave more than $42,000 to Branstad’s efforts.

Though the Iowa support serves as a stark contrast to the zip codes Christie has spent most of his time in so far this cycle. According to Democracy in Action, the former head of the Republican governor’s association has been in New Hampshire more than twice the amount of time he has been in Iowa.

Former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said the change in scenery shows the elbowroom left by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker after he bowed out of the race.

“It really is wide open here,” Strawn said, noting that just two months ago, he would have had a hard time seeing Christie or Ohio Gov. John Kaisch compete in Iowa.

The competition is especially open when it comes to the type of economic conservatives Christie was courting in Tuesday’s announcement, Strawn said.

But for now, the once-popular governor lags in early polls of likely Republican caucus-goers.

In the  Register’s/ Bloomberg Politics August Iowa Poll, Christie remained in the margin of error when the 400 likely Republican caucus-goers who would be their first choice for president. With a 4.9 percent margin of error, Christie’s 2 percent is considered statistically insignificant in the poll taken Aug. 23-26. The governor also finished that way in the May and January Iowa polls.

Although it is important to point out that early polls taken in Iowa had the likes of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, then-Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on top at various points throughout the moments of the 2012 caucus campaign.

With a combined sample of 59 percent, Christie also retains a pretty high percentage of respondents who have an unfavorable view of him.

But those who have studied or seen Christie in action say his retail politicking has been known to sway more than a few people.

“He is a likable guy, and people are surprised when they get to talk and meet him how personable and warm he is,” said Kim Ream, the president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women.

Ream, who has to stay neutral due to her position, observed Christie at a townhall in Cedar Rapids this summer. Overall like many other candidates, she said, Christie will be his biggest asset.

“He will help himself more than any staffer or endorser,” she said.

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