Not long ago, I was scouring bookies odds – ready to put a quid on Chris Christie for the Republican Party presidential nomination. An up-and-coming Governor from New Jersey making waves in the US for metaphorically crossing the aisle over Hurricane Sandy, I thought I might have found the only Clinton challenger. I thought that Christie ticked every box one would need to have a shot at the presidency. A large blue state Governor polling well enough to turn it red, a charismatic speaker, a proven conservative track record to propel him through the primary, but enough favour with Democrats to appeal to moderates come the general election. Christie seemingly possesses a potent electoral formula.
However, ‘the bridge' scandal and some bad political decisions (such as vetoing the minimum wage raise only for it to be passed by ballot initiative) have scuppered Christie’s early lead amongst candidates, leaving him now dwindling within an ever-growing crowd of Republican contenders. In fact, Christie went from an approval rating of 73% in January 2013 to 48% in January 2014, now polling at a George Bush-esque 30% with New Jersey voters.
Yet, as Christie formally launches his campaign, I declare that he alone remains the only hope for the Republicans should they wish to recapture the White House late next year.
See, I’m a big believer in electoral math. Politicians, ideologies, they come, they go, but the number 270 transcends all. This appears to be a concept that Republicans have struggled with since 2004. For all of Bush’s faults, he was astute at forging his path to 270 against the odds. Ever since, Republicans have prioritised ideology over victory. All nominees are compelled to oppose abortion, support tax relief as a cornerstone policy, ostracise homosexuality, bash food stamp recipients, and deny the reality of climate change (the fervently the better).
I can save Republican donors at least $1 billion dollars in the next sentence: one cannot acquire 270 votes on a radical, socially conservative platform. Closer to election time, I’ll explain the ins and outs of why, but take that as a given for now. From the current crop of Republican candidates, that leaves Christie, Jeb Bush and possibly Marco Rubio. Christie is currently running well behind Bush and Rubio in the polls. Nevertheless, it will be a long year ahead, and Christie will undoubtedly use his notorious debating skills to effect later in the campaign. For all of Jeb Bush’s qualities, one suspects that winning over the average semi-engaged voter will be a laborious task. That leaves Christie and Rubio. Christie, unlike many Republican candidates, can be a blue- and white-collar working man. He can contend in Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado.
The challenge for Christie in the coming weeks will be two-fold. Firstly, he needs to improve his approval ratings and move up a few spots in the polling for the New Hampshire primary. Christie will garner much support through live debates due to his common-sense, no nonsense approach to politics. However, for that to happen he first needs to be in the debates (only the top ten candidates are eligible), and that has to be the first priority for the Christie campaign at this point.
Secondly, Christie needs to distinguish himself from frontrunner Bush. As John Huntsman Jnr. will tell you, there's only room for one moderate in a Republican primary. Christie either needs to, in the voters eyes, usurp Bush or differentiate himself enough to be another prospect altogether. It will be a difficult few weeks for Christie, but nothing a bounce in the polls and a refreshed brand image can't cure.
To count Christie out of the race would be premature and short-sighted. Eight years ago, as far as the press and country were concerned, Hillary Clinton had the Democratic nomination sewn up. A small roadblock in the shape of Barack Obama lay ahead of Hillary on that occasion - a roadblock few saw coming. Bigger political comebacks have been staged by far less talented politicians than Chris Christie. It may currently appear to be a long shot, but it would not surprise me in the slightest to hear Christie victory speeches come Super Tuesday.