Seven Iowa businessmen are flying to New Jersey today to dine with the man they hope will improve a comically bad Republican presidential field. I understand the idea behind recruiting Governor Chris Christie, but I don't get why the power-brokers are calling so much attention their efforts.
More thoughts on the courting of Christie are after the jump, along with a bonus tip on what not to say if you want outsiders to take the Iowa caucuses seriously.
Bruce Rastetter is the leading voice of the "draft Christie" effort in Iowa. He is drawn to the kingmaker role. Not only did he provide the early seed money for the American Future Fund, he was one of the key business leaders who brought Terry Branstad out of retirement. Earlier this month Rastetter gave Thomas Beaumont of the Associated Press some exclusive and widely-circulated quotes on why he would like Christie to run for president. This past weekend, Rastetter was a key source for Jennifer Jacobs' report for the Des Moines Register on the GOP insiders' trip.
"If we only accomplish one thing, and that is to encourage Chris Christie to maintain his leadership style and to encourage other Republicans to have the same leadership style, we'll feel very good about the trip," said Iowa hog and ethanol baron Bruce Rastetter, a prolific contributor to GOP campaigns.
Rastetter and a team of six other Iowa businessmen will fly by private jet Tuesday to meet with Christie, who has steadfastly refused to run but agreed to have dinner with them in the governor's mansion.
It doesn't take a genius to see why the power-brokers are not satisfied with the current field of candidates running against President Barack Obama.
Nevertheless, seeking out front-page coverage for their recruiting mission, not once but twice, strikes me as odd. Rastetter may enjoy cultivating his powerful image, and he's sure to be mentioned in countless media reports if Christie changes his supposedly made-up mind. But I can't see how this publicity helps the kingmaker's would-be king. If Christie does run for president this year, he'll need to position himself as a candidate who can resolve the tension between the GOP's business wing and social conservatives. Answering the call of the moneyed insiders doesn't seem like a great way for Christie to introduce himself to potential Iowa caucus-goers. The script writes itself: while other candidates were out meeting and listening to "real Iowans" at local events, Christie waited for a bunch of elites to charter a private jet to his mansion.
My money's still on Christie not running for president this cycle. His approval rating has dropped below 50 percent in several New Jersey polls this spring (see here and here). If he runs and loses the GOP nomination, I doubt taking half a year to campaign in other states would help his image at home. Just ask former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd.
Christie appeals to some Republicans because he has taken on labor unions and Democratic legislators in battles over the state budget. As a candidate, his record would go under the microscope. Iowa Republicans hated our I-JOBS borrowing for infrastructure; will they support a man who has signed off on more state bonding than former Iowa Governor Chet Culver?
Christie fueled the presidential speculation last week by pulling New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a "ten-state cap and trade program" designed "to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent by 2018." But Christie didn't throw in his lot with the climate deniers:
He said the program's allowances were never expensive enough to change behavior, and that New Jersey has brought its carbon emissions below its 2020 goal as a result of market forces rather than cap-and-trade. Any benefits from the RGGI tax will also now be miniscule in comparison to those from New Jersey's incentives for wind, solar and natural gas generation, Christie said. [...]
In his announcement yesterday, Christie also said that New Jersey will enact an immediate ban on new coal-fired power plants. "From this day forward any plans that anyone has regarding any type of coal-based generation of energy in New Jersey is over," Christie said.
He affirmed New Jersey's commitment, through its renewable portfolio standard, to derive 22.5 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2021. And he announced the creation of a a State Energy Savings Initiative Oversight Committee, to design a framework to improve energy efficiency at state-owned buildings. [...]
Last year he expressed doubts about whether people are contributing to global warming, the Times said, but on Thursday he revised that position, noting that over 90 percent of climate scientists believe global warming to have anthropogenic causes. "We know that we are at least a part of the problem," Christie said.
How's that going to sound to conservatives who view all talk of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as heresy?
If Christie manages to win the Republican presidential nomination, he'll face a well-funded incumbent whose approval rating in New Jersey rose this spring while the governor's declined. A losing presidential campaign would force Christie to spend most of 2012 out of state, pandering to the GOP base in more conservative states. All of that could hurt his 2013 re-election prospects.
Christie is only 48 years old. The smart play is for him to concentrate on getting re-elected as governor for at least one more term. If Obama wins a second term, Christie can run for president in 2016, when there will be no incumbent. If Obama loses to a different Republican in 2012, Christie can run for president in 2020. By that time the youngest of his four children would be in high school.
Before I open the floor for comments, here's some free advice for Republicans who want the Iowa caucuses to remain an important part of the nominating process. Don't do what one rookie legislator did when contacted by the Des Moines Register for comment:
State Sen. Rob Bacon, R-Maxwell, said he won't mind if Christie doesn't run.
"We don't need him necessarily," said Bacon, 56. "We have a great lineup."
Bacon speculated that a coastal candidate might not fare as well here. "In Iowa, when we hear someone's from out east, we kind of go, 'Hmm, that's nice.' "
I expect an elected official to pretend this Republican field isn't weak, especially a guy like Bacon, whose state Senate campaign received $2,000 last year from Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's Freedom First PAC.
If Bacon has misgivings about Christie or prefers a different candidate, he should just explain why. Feeding stereotypes about Iowans' intolerance toward outsiders is like begging people to write this state off forever.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.
UPDATE: Christie told his visitors, in effect, "Thanks but no thanks":
Christie asked about the political climate in Iowa and the caucus process, but reiterated that he would not be a candidate for president next year. Among the reasons, Christie told Rastetter that a run for the Oval Office is not something he and his family, with four children ranging from elementary school to high school, have begun contemplating.
``Those reasons are the commitment he made to New Jersey, the fact of how large a decision like this is in terms of his readiness and how hard it is to be running for president when you are governing a state and you have young children,'' said Christie's chief political adviser Mike DuHaime.
``I did not hear anything from Gov. Christie that I have not heard before,'' added Christie's longtime friend, Bill Palatucci.
However, Christie said that he would accept an invitation to speak at an education conference hosted in Iowa by Branstad in July. Branstad, who has expressed how impressed he was when Christie headlined a campaign fundraiser in Iowa last October, invited New Jersey's governor in May to the conference, scheduled for July 25-26 in Des Moines.
I was amused to see Craig Robinson argue here that the donors should have traveled to Austin to recruit Texas Governor Rick Perry. I doubt Perry would be a strong general election candidate for various reasons. Perhaps Robinson isn't aware that Texas has one of the largest projected budget gaps for the coming fiscal year. As a percentage of the state budget for fiscal year 2011, the shortfall in Texas (31.5 percent) is third-largest behind Nevada's and New Jersey's--even a bit larger than the shortfall in famously ungovernable California.
SECOND UPDATE: The six Republicans who joined Rastetter on the trip were:
Gary Kirke, who owns a company that manages businesses. He is the founder of Wild Rose Entertainment, a casino operator in Clinton and Emmetsburg.
Michael Richards, a physician who has worked with Kirke on various business projects since 1999. He's a partner in the Emmetsburg casino.
Denny Elwell, a real estate developer who sparked growth in the Ankeny area more than two decades ago.
Cameron Sutton, a retired insurance company executive who serves on the board of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Mikel Derby, an owner/partner in the Matchpoint Strategies public affairs firm, "focused on strategic planning for political campaigns, industry groups, trade associations, and corporations; state and federal lobby work; and fundraising." Derby previously worked on Terry Branstad's 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Jim Kersten, a former state senator from Fort Dodge. He worked in the earlier Branstad administration and formed the lobbying group Golden Dome Strategies. His lobbying clients include Iowa Central Community College. This year Branstad named Kersten to the State Judicial Nominating Commission and to a citizen advisory committee on transportation issues.
After the New Jersey trip, Kirke told WHO-TV's Dave Price, "We definitely have his attention. I think we've got him thinking about it like he's never thought about it before." Speaking to Jennifer Jacobs, Richards said "his interpretation of Christie's comments is that the governor 'hasn't made a decision about what he wants to do' about the 2012 race."