Ten months into Chris Christie’s term as governor, he went to Iowa for the first time. He was there to campaign for Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. As Star-Ledger reporter Josh Margolin, covering the governor in West Des Moines, Iowa, in October, 2010, put it back then:
…with the touchdown of his chartered jet, the freshman Republican governor parachuted into the frenzy of midterm elections while toying with questions about whether he really means it when he says he’s not interested in running for president or vice president in two years.
Christie did not run in 2012, but he did return to Iowa for 41 more days over the next five-plus years. Almost all of his trips were political, to campaign for Republicans, with the security and other costs covered by the taxpayers of New Jersey. Christie hosted a pheasant hunt fundraiser for Congressman Steve King, one of the most conservative members of congress, and he raised oodles of money for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is extraordinarily popular in his home state.
But Christie couldn’t cash in on these relationships. King endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who ultimately won the Iowa caucus. Branstad loaned out members of his political team for Christie’s campaign and he rallied with Christie twice leading up to the vote, yet the Iowa governor stopped short of endorsing Christie.
Meanwhile, the candidate Christie has attacked most vociferously, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, nearly came in second place and heads to New Hampshire with the wind at his back.
Donald Trump, though, looms as the candidate who exacted the most long-term damage. A CNN entrance poll of caucus-goers showed that Trump won the votes of those who wanted someone who “tells it like it is.”
Christie’s campaign slogan is Telling it like it is.
Iowans also didn’t reward Christie for adopting more conservative policies the more time he spent in their agricultural-based state. Christie has recently loosened New Jersey gun laws and become more opposed to immigration. He also vetoed a bill to ban small crates for pregnant pigs that are considered inhumane. Even though the bill was a political trap from New Jersey Democrats, his veto was seen as an obvious effort to ingratiate himself with Republican Iowa hog barons.
The gambit didn’t work. For most of the time Christie was coming to Iowa he was among the most buzzed about politicians in America. On Monday night, Christie’s name was barely mentioned on the airwaves. He did as poorly as his worst poll. Just 2 percent, in 10th place, ahead of only former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Christie could come back. He has already returned to New Hampshire, where he has centered his quest for the White House. All he believes he needs to do is beat the two other governors he sees as his immediate competition, Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Then he can move on to the next round — to Rubio, Cruz and Trump.
Otherwise, Christie’s campaign will likely not attract enough money to stay alive, and he’ll have to return to Trenton, where Democrats will spend the final two years of his gubernatorial term saying he has forsaken the state for selfish political ambitions.
That would be the same old song for Christie. “The state’s economy is a train wreck and it’s getting worse,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney told the Star-Ledger in 2010, during that first trip to Iowa. “What is this governor doing to get his house in order? He’s running for higher office.”
That was a political jab, back then. Now, Christie is actually running for higher office. At least for one more week, when New Hampshire voters go to the polls.