Chris Christie is back – back to behaving like a possible 2016 presidential candidate. That appears to be the political bottom line from the New Jersey governor’s swing this week through the early caucus state of Iowa.
Governor Christie, a Republican, shook hands. He held babies. He ate pork (that’s a big thing in Iowa). He looked tanned, rested, and ready.
Lots of ordinary voters asked Christie in person to run for president. He seemed to enjoy the support. But he claimed he wasn’t there to bask in adulation.
“I don’t care about being loved. I care about being respected,” said Christie at a Thursday press conference. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he was in Iowa for fundraising events.
The trip may have showcased Christie's strength at retail campaigning. It hinted that voter uproar over the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal has faded, at least for now.
But new polls indicate that his longtime major political weakness has not gone away: Republicans do not entirely trust him, seeing him as a liberal Northeasterner in an increasingly conservative party.
Meanwhile, Christie remains the Democrats’ favorite possible GOP candidate. That could help him in a general election. However, he has to win over Republicans to win primaries before he could reach the mountain of a November vote.
A Gallup survey out Friday has numbers that show what we mean. In the crowded field of possible Republican presidential candidates, from Mike Huckabee to Rick Santorum to Scott Walker, Christie has lowest favorability rating among Republican voters.
It’s plus-10, meaning that he has a 39 percent approval among self-described members of the GOP and 29 percent disapproval.
In comparison, Rand Paul’s favorability rating in the Gallup poll is a whopping plus-47.
Nor is this finding an outlier. Other national surveys tend to show that about 30 percent of Republican voters have an unfavorable view of Christie. For example, a recent Quinnipiac survey has Christie’s Republican negatives at 28 percent. That’s almost twice as bad as the number for Jeb Bush, who is the next least-liked GOP candidate among party voters.
For the New Jersey governor, it’s as if he’s facing a handicap in the Republican race, having to start at a popularity disadvantage compared with rivals.
Democrats like him, though. Or at least, they dislike him less than any other possible Republican candidate, with the exception of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
In the Gallup poll, Christie and Governor Jindal are tied with a net favorability among Democrats of minus-12. Given Christie is much better known nationally, we’ll give him the edge and say he’s the Democratic Party’s favorite Republican.
It’s not like this is a new position for Christie to be in. Prior to the Bridge-gate scandal, he promoted himself as the electable GOP hopeful, while detractors called him a RINO, a Republican in name only who embraced President Obama in the wake of superstorm Sandy.
As Bridge-gate recedes, it’s apparent that basic conflict of opinion remains.
“Christie’s favorability profile presents a challenge to him in securing the Republican nomination, given his lower relative popularity among the party base, but would potentially put him in a more advantageous position in a general election setting, given Democrats’ lesser dislike for him than other GOP candidates,” writes Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport.