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

"I don't actually know where (Christie) is on abortion and guns and things like that, but there may be people on the conservative side who have problems with that," said David Carney, Perry's top strategist. "The scrutiny that will come on his ideological and fiscal policies and social policies will be magnified greatly because of the short time period."

Christie favors some restrictions on gun rights, as well as civil unions for gay couples. He now opposes abortion, but described himself as "pro-choice" at the beginning of his political career.

All of that will provide plenty of fodder for Romney, whose carefully built, long-running campaign has moved steadily through repeated rounds of doubt and speculation about other candidates. In some cases, he has tweaked his message — downplaying his time as governor to paint Perry as a career politician, for example — but made no major course corrections. While Christie's similar profile threatens Romney more directly, there's no indication Romney plans to make a major shift if Christie jumps in.

"The Romney campaign has been built to withstand all elements and endure every candidate scenario," said Kevin Madden, a senior Romney aide in 2008 who now serves as an informal adviser. "The last nine months have seen a series of 'insert name here' candidates, but the campaign has focused relentlessly on the economic message and making the case that Gov. Romney is the best candidate to beat President Obama, and will continue to do so."

And a Christie entry could end up actually helping Romney.

"Everyone will aim at the perceived frontrunner," said Galen, the Republican strategist. "It helps Romney because it will keep the pressure off of him for the next three to four weeks, and depending what happens with the calendar, Romney just has to gather himself and sprint to the finish."

As early as this week, Christie could announce whether he will run and reverse himself after more than a year of ruling out a candidacy. Changes in the primary calendar have left him with much less time to put together a campaign. Christie would have scarcely three months to set up a campaign for the Iowa caucuses, which appear likely to happen in early January. New Hampshire's primary would come soon after.

So far, there's scant evidence that Christie has begun to organize campaigns in the early states. He has some foothold in Iowa, where he campaigned for Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and hosted a fundraiser with Republican Rep. Steve King. A delegation of Iowa donors traveled to New Jersey earlier this year to urge Christie to run.

But top operatives there say they haven't yet heard from Christie's team, and the story is much the same in New Hampshire.

"Gov. Christie would make a compelling candidate for president, but there is no evidence whatsoever that he has reached out to top Republican officials and opinion leaders," said Mike Dennehy, a top New Hampshire Republican strategist who was McCain's political director in 2008.

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