Christie has fallen a long way from the front of the presidential pack over the past several months. In 2013, following a sweeping re-election, he was king of the hill when the Republican primary was concerned. However, in politics, things change quickly. At this point, Christie is struggling to maintain a positive image in his home state of New Jersey while also struggling to maintain relevance in the 2016 field.
Report from Time:
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie built his political brand around telling the tough truths—be they about teacher-pension overruns, budget deficits or rebuilding hurricane-battered towns. And he is banking on that reputation to vault him from the statehouse to the White House. “We want folks as our nominee who are going to tell the truth,” he told a March gathering of top Republican Party donors at a waterside Boca Raton resort.
Yet just days after making his case in Florida, Christie was back at home dealing with a tough truth of his own. With his national poll numbers in the single digits, Christie’s presidential prospects have nearly collapsed, damaged by his staff’s role in the politically motivated closure of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge, humbled by fiscal shortfalls in New Jersey and rattled by the rise of Jeb Bush’s campaign.
Instead of courting primary voters in Iowa diners or New Hampshire living rooms, Christie has spent much of the past months in New Jersey, working boroughs and townships like Kenilworth and Whippany to persuade state lawmakers to make another round of painful pension and benefit reforms. To make matters worse, indictments are still expected for a pair of former aides implicated in the bridge closures. Privately, Christie has confided in donors that running for President is harder than he thought, and he has pushed back an announcement until as late as June. [Emphasis added]
That last sentence is pretty enlightening, actually. It at least gives the appearance that Christie was walking so high in establishment circles that he may have been feeling somewhat inevitable as the 2016 nominee. He knows campaigning is hard, he ran as a Republican in a deeply blue state. How could he have not expected a difficult time running for president against a dozen other major candidates with the national media spotlight shining on him?
Nonetheless, Christie sees New Hampshire, in the style of John McCain, as his possible saving grace:
The unstated model is Arizona Senator John McCain’s successful 2008 bid, and the path will head straight through New Hampshire. After a July 2007 implosion, McCain jettisoned staff and baggage as donors fled. But his New Hampshire–centric effort, complete with 100 town halls, won him the nomination. On Thursday, Christie hired his second full-time staffer in the Granite State, Matt Moroney, the statewide field director for Walt Havenstein’s 2014 campaign for governor, and he plans at least two visits in April.
Christie aides highlight exit polling from the past three competitive New Hampshire primaries, in which about half of GOP voters said they had made up their minds in the final week. “This thing is a roller coaster,” says Phil Cox, who is running the pro-Christie super PAC America Leads, part of an effort to raise $30 million. “Every candidate will have their ups and downs, and you need to peak at the right time.”
Yes, Christie is a fairly strong contender in New Hampshire. He’s a moderate, northeastern Republican, the type of candidate who does well in the Granite State. He also has a course to follow with McCain. However, I think one thing that’s missing in this equation is why McCain went on to do well in South Carolina after winning New Hampshire. McCain’s military service played huge there and that is something Christie is lacking. Instead, this time around, I think South Carolina will be courted more strongly by someone like Huckabee, Cruz, or Scott Walker, perhaps. Huckabee almost won South Carolina in 2008, losing by less than 3% to McCain.
If Christie doesn’t outright win in New Hampshire decisively, I don’t think he can compete any further. That is, if he actually decides to launch a campaign in June or not.