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Gov. Christie stumps in Iowa today

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | JULY 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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Strident New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will make his way through Iowa today on a three-city sweep, first from a big-ticket Republican Governors Association fundraiser as the group’s 2014 national chairman, followed by two jaunts in the Cedar Rapids area, before a final leg on county fair grounds.

Christie’s first return to the state in two years has resulted in political examinations about his attempts to make a run for the White House. Those attempts, if at all true, have stayed under deep wraps by a pockmarked administration that is still reeling from its handling of the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal last fall.

Chris Larimer, an associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa, said the 51-year-old East Coast moderate Republican could try to test his viability in a state in which far fewer residents know his name and gubernatorial legacy.

Christie was last in Iowa to push for Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in December 2011 and in July of that year following Gov. Terry Branstad’s request to attend a state education summit.

On his most recent return, his stated purpose is to campaign for Branstad’s re-election.

“It’s certainly not random, whether or not he admits it,” Larimer said about Christie’s return, which serves as a precursor to a July 31 visit to fellow presidential battleground state New Hampshire.

Steffen Schmidt, a political-science professor at Iowa State University, said in the face of several “highly visible problems” plaguing his administration, Christie’s trip is geared at testing the presidential waters. While Schmidt said New Jersey’s economy and state budget aren’t as robust as they should be, Christie remains a “viable Republican for 2016,” and his arrival indicates that he’s interested in the job.

Another issue stands in whether his oft-direct personality will mesh with Iowa voters will also be closely watched, Larimer said.

Rather than attempting to eschew similar rhetoric of state residents, Larimer said Christie would most likely address the political crowds with an “I share Republican values” moniker.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll that sampled Iowa voters at the end of June, 54 percent of state Republicans still have a favorable opinion of Christie, compared with 23 percent who view him unfavorably. Iowa voters with an independent mindset are less supportive of him.

Calls to the Office of the Governor in New Jersey seeking comment by The Daily Iowan regarding his Iowa appearances and potential presidential plans were not returned as of Wednesday evening.

Should he announce plans for Washington, the most pressing concern for Christie will be to appeal to the state’s stark social conservative voters, which make up about one-third of all of Iowa’s caucus goers, Larimer said.

He said he expects Christie’s talking points to focus on the Affordable Care Act, the country’s path to economic recovery, foreign affairs, and the national deficit.

Tommy Schultz, the press secretary for the Branstad-Reynolds campaign, said Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will touch on leading Iowa into the future at the Davenport appearance, after they reduced state unemployment by 30 percent and pushed two-straight years of a tuition freeze at Iowa’s state universities, during their most recent term.

Eye doctor and former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who is vying for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, will also speak at the “Evening at the Fair” stump at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport alongside Christie, Schultz told The Daily Iowan.

But even before Christie is able to step one foot on the state’s political stomping grounds, attacks have been aimed and fired from both sides of the aisle, in Iowa and across the country.

The Judicial Crisis Network released digital advertisements assaulting Christie for failing to make the New Jersey Supreme Court more conservative. The network, which bills itself as “dedicated to strengthening liberty and justice in America,” is spending more than $75,000 for the strategy and criticizes Christie for nominating Chief Justice Stuart Rabner for tenure on New Jersey’s state Supreme Court, thanks to a deal made with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

John Hedgecoth, the communications director for the Hatch-Vernon campaign, said it’s Sen. Jack Hatch’s position that Christie has used more than a million dollars of Republican Governors’ Association funds to bail out Branstad as the Iowa governor attempts to fight off scandals including secret settlements first reported by the Des Moines Register.

“Gov. Christie knows scandal all too well,” Hedgecoth wrote in an email Wednesday.

Still, Christie told the Associated Press on Wednesday that despite speculation and comfortable poll numbers, he is not working toward the Oval Office just yet.

“I’m not gearing up to run up for president,” Christie said. “I’m gearing up to win as many governors’ races as I can this November, and then we’ll make decisions about running for president after that.”


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