The clamor for Chris Christie to enter the Republican presidential race is again clanging like a church bell among some sectors of the party — and while the New Jersey governor maintains he’s not getting in, his schedule suggests that he is, at the very least, keeping his options open.
Christie will be in Southern California on Tuesday speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, an address that will be closely watched by those looking for signs that he’s considering a run. He’ll also be raising money, appearing at events in Santa Ana, Beverly Hills and at the home of new Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Meg Whitman.
It’s part of a three-state fundraising swing that began Monday in Missouri and will end in Louisiana on Thursday, where he’ll appear at an event with Gov. Bobby Jindal.
At the same time, the New York Times reported that a high-powered assortment of Republican donors, including “tea party” backer David Koch, are trying to broker a Christie bid.
The latest Christie boomlet has been spurred in part by mounting questions about the suitability of GOP front-runner Rick Perry in the wake of a pair of disappointing debate performances and worries over his position on immigration, coupled with persistent dissatisfaction among the rank-and-file with the leading alternative, Mitt Romney.
Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the New Jersey Republican Party, insists that Christie remains a no-go for 2012.
“Gov. Christie is flattered that his accomplishments in New Jersey have received so much support from voters across the country, but nothing has changed with regards to the governor’s decision not to run for president in 2012,” Gorka said.
In almost the same breath, however, the state GOP highlighted the results of a new poll that shows Christie’s popularity in the state to be rising in the wake of his leadership during Hurricane Irene.
Tom Kean, the former New Jersey governor, also stoked the speculation by telling the National Review that Christie is “very seriously” considering a run.
“It’s real,” Kean said. “He’s giving it a lot of thought. I think the odds are a lot better now than they were a couple weeks ago.”
While Perry and Romney’s rivalry has evolved more or less along geographic lines — a version of red state versus blue state — Christie holds the potential for unifying the party, as he is popular with establishment Republicans, moderates, and the tea party wing.
At the same time, while he has attracted a great deal of attention for his blunt talk and taking on unions in New Jersey, Christie governs more like a pragmatic Northeastern moderate than a hardcore conservative and it’s highly possible that many ideological purists in the party would eye him with suspicion.
There are also concerns, of course, that entering the race at this late date would put Christie at some kind of disadvantage. But the field remains in flux, with Perry showing signs of coming back to earth and a revived interest in Florida straw poll winner Herman Cain. And it would appear that Christie would start with a deep fundraising base.
As Republicans these days are frequently reminded, Bill Clinton, at the time a young, up-and-coming governor, did not enter the 1992 presidential contest until October 1991.