On Tuesday, Republicans won big in races for offices at all levels of government. But the biggest winner of all is a politician who wasn’t even on the ballot: New Jersey governor and GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie.
As chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), Christie spent significant time campaigning and fundraising for Republicans in 37 states this election season. Races that looked to be close or even potential GOP losses, such as the contest in Florida between incumbent Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist, turned into big wins for the Republican Party. RGA Executive Director Phil Cox said that the New Jersey governor played an “instrumental” role in Republican successes around the nation.
In addition to Scott, Republican governors Terry Branstad, Sam Brownback, Scott Walker, Brian Sandoval, and Rick Snyder all clinched re-election (in, respectively, Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Michigan). Even the voters of blue states arguably succumbed to Christie’s charm: Bruce Rauner and Larry Hogan ousted sitting Democrats in Maryland and in Illinois (President Barack Obama’s home state). Charlie Baker even beat Martha Coakley in the bluest state of the bunch, Massachusetts.
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, says Christie, as he heads into a likely 2016 run for the GOP presidential nomination, stands to benefit in three significant ways: messaging, fundraising, and favor-trading. “First, he got to try out his message all across the nation,” Dworkin told the The American Prospect. “One question about Christie is whether his political style will play in Topeka. He’s now had a chance to travel everywhere across the country to see what works and what doesn't, all on the RGA's tab.”
Christie recently garnered some negative press after telling a heckler at a press conference to “Sit down and shut up.” Some wondered if his Tony Soprano style of New Jersey politics would play in some of the more rural areas of country. However, in Iowa, known for its culture of politeness, Christie drew large crowds, showing that he still is a rock star within the Republican Party—and, perhaps, beyond.
While the television cameras captured Christie greeting potential voters along the campaign trail, behind the scenes—usually at private gatherings closed off to those same cameras—Christie schmoozed with GOP activists and powerbrokers.
“He got to meet every major donor in the Republican Party and all of the key political operatives,” Dworkin continued. ”Running for president is a massive undertaking and you need to build a national team that already knows the battleground states. He's gotten to do that.”
But Dworkin’s third point could be the clincher for the Garden State governor. “Christie was at the helm when Republicans won huge victories around the country. Not only will he be able to take credit for those wins, but he will have the invaluable resource of governors 'owing him' for all the help he provided.”
Nothing better sets up a presidential run and opportunities for future favors than raising dollars and getting out the votes for other politicians. Under Christie’s watch, the RGA went into Tuesday’s election after raising more than $100 million, a record. The proof was also in the pudding as the RGA increased its number of governors from 29 to 31. As the saying goes, nothing succeeds like success.
Expect the governor to announce his intentions to run for president shortly.