New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie could upend GOP race

Budget-cutting governor is latest heartthrob

By Kasie Hunt

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 2 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

Chris Christie

Associated Press

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MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's entry into the 2012 presidential race could dramatically reshape what has become a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. But Christie, who's under pressure from party elders to run, hasn't faced national scrutiny — and he could join other early favorites who burned out fast.

The budget-cutting Christie is the latest heartthrob of Republicans who have been looking for a more exciting candidate than Romney. The former Massachusetts governor ran in 2008 and has long been considered the one to beat in the GOP, which has a history of nominating candidates who lost once before.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a favorite of fiscal conservatives, decided not to run. So did Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, long a part of the GOP establishment.

Perry, the Texas governor, jumped in to much fanfare only to sweat under the scrutiny his first national campaign brought. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann rallied restive conservatives long enough to win a key test vote in Iowa but just as quickly receded to the background.

Christie said in January he wasn't "arrogant enough" to run for president in 2012. Now he is reconsidering in light of encouragement from GOP luminaries like Henry Kissinger, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush.

If he runs, Christie probably would be able to raise millions for a campaign, though his rivals have a huge head start. With about 100 days before the caucuses in Iowa, he'd face the tough task of setting up state campaign organizations swiftly, though he already has a team of advisers with national campaign experience. As a Republican governor of a Democratic mid-Atlantic state, he could appeal to the donors and voters who like Romney's business background but are looking for a more charismatic candidate.

If he does run, Christie would push a long list of second-tier candidates even further to the back of the pack. Still, some positions he's taken as New Jersey governor could run afoul of conservatives who make up the GOP base.

He would also face a national spotlight that's much harsher than those on the state or local stage.

"The swimming pool looks a lot better until you jump right in. The water may not be quite as warm as you think," Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee in 2008, warned Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"The best thing to be is a potential candidate," said Rich Galen, a longtime Republican strategist. "I don't think anybody can stand up to that scrutiny without laying the groundwork for a long time before. ... His positions, whatever he's done as a prosecutor, any case he's ever tried, any opinion he's ever gotten out of a judge, everything — it's all going to go under scrutiny that we've seen time after time is enormously more difficult to deal with as a presidential candidate."

Just ask Perry. Two months ago, Republicans were pushing him to run. He shot to the top of national polls after his announcement in mid-August. He was lauded as the kind of candidate who could energize a passionate base and lure business conservatives.

A few shaky debate performances and many attacks from Romney later, Perry has already begun to fade. His weaknesses were on stark display this weekend in New Hampshire, where he held a series of town hall meetings and was asked over and over again about a bill he signed that allows illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition at Texas universities.

Other questioners wanted to know how he would help senior citizens after he called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme." Romney signs and mocking campaign literature greeted him at almost every stop.

Perry aides point to the fact that he has been running for about six weeks, while Romney has been preparing his second presidential bid since the first one ended. But they acknowledge that starting later has made Perry's path more difficult — and while they insist immigration and Social Security are much less important issues than the economy and jobs, they also say Christie could face similar problems.

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