Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia, hold their gubernatorial elections in odd years. Since there's generally a dearth of other political news at that time, Washington-based reporters usually decide that whoever got elected in Virginia is suddenly a national figure with a future as a presidential or at least vice-presidential candidate. They say this because they have become familiar with the Virginia race and therefore perceive it as important, and because Virginia is a swing state, which is supposed to mean that someone who got elected there might also appeal to voters elsewhere. This year, however, the Virginia race features two candidates no one much likes: Ken Cuccinelli, who seems like he might launch a campaign to reintroduce witch trials to the commonwealth if he became governor, and Terry McAuliffe, an almost comically smarmy operator whose most profound talent lies in separating people from their money. Obviously, neither of those two is ever going to be president, so that leaves reporters with the other race up in the Garden State.
So when Chris Christie wins that race easily, as he will, we'll be treated to a brief but overwhelming deluge of stories about Christie's 2016 presidential candidacy. He certainly sounds like he's ready to start running, and it's safe to say the press corps would love it if he did.
That isn't because they have any particular strong feelings about his politics. It's because he's great copy. You think it'd be fun taking a few months of your life to follow Bobby Jindal around Iowa while he plasters on a fake smile and tries to look interested in what farmers have to say? God, no. But with Christie, you never know what he's going to do. He might swear. He might snap at a schoolteacher (he has a particular contempt for teachers). He might call one of his political opponents "numbnuts."
All of which is great fun for journalists used to covering the usual walking haircuts who calculate every word that comes out of their mouths to offend the fewest number of people. Just how well Christie's Jersey tough guy schtick is going to play with the midwestern and southern base of the GOP is an open question, and one we'll no doubt be discussing at length over the next couple of years. It's too early to say whether in the opinion of those voters he'll fall on the right or wrong side of the line that separates "refreshingly blunt" from "asshole." But it's important to understand that it is a schtick. I'm not saying it doesn't reflect his genuine personality, but before anyone gets too rhapsodic about Christie's "authenticity," let's keep in mind that he's a politician and he does what politicians do. He thinks at length about how he wants to be perceived. He takes polls to determine what voters think of him. He chooses to say some things and not others.
So when you see all the coming stories about what a formidable 2016 candidate Christie would be, remember that that could be true, or it might not; presidential campaigns are littered with people who had done well in their states and were supposed to be boffo on the national stage but turned out to be duds. But the people writing those stories are hoping he'll run, particularly given the cast of snoozers currently lining up.