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Who benefits from Chris Christie’s decision to opt out?

Which candidate gets the Christie supporters – and money?

That’s the big question, in the wake of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement Tuesday that he will not seek the Republican presidential nomination.

By many accounts, big money has been sitting on the sidelines, Governor Christie’s for the asking, if he had been willing to run for president. Names like Kenneth Langone, the founder of Home Depot, hedge fund founder Paul Singer, and industrialist and tea party funder David Koch were reportedly instrumental in the campaign to get Christie to run.

Now that their man has given them a firm “no,” it’s time to decide where to direct the checks. The field is likely set, save for a possible run by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but she’s no longer seen as a major player even if she does run. The big money folks want someone who’s electable. Then there are the garden-variety Republican voters still weak in their support of a candidate or even completely undecided.

On both accounts, it’s impossible to predict what the undecided will do. Those perhaps leaning toward Texas Gov. Rick Perry may wait to see how he does in the next two debates, Oct. 11 and 18. If he continues to stumble and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney continues to turn in solid but uninspiring debate performances, maybe a consensus forms around Mr. Romney as the most electable.

And don’t forget businessman Herman Cain, who is now tied for second with Governor Perry at 16 percent, behind Mr. Romney’s 25 percent, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. Romney has held steady at 25 – not a good sign for someone who needs to grow support – but he’s better off than Perry, who dropped a whopping 13 percentage points in the last month, while Mr. Cain gained 12 points.

Perry has also been losing ground in the Gallup poll’s measure of “positive intensity” – the difference between the percentage of voters who view a candidate favorably and those who view him or her negatively, among voters who are familiar with the candidate. Perry has dropped to 15, down from 25 a month ago. Cain’s positive intensity has jumped to 30, though he is less widely known than Perry and Romney. Romney is slightly better known than Perry and has a slightly lower positive intensity.

The Post-ABC poll may give some clues as to how the absence of Christie affects the race. With Christie running hypothetically (and without Ms. Palin), he got 11 percent, Romney got 22 percent, Perry got 15 percent, and Cain got 14 percent. Without Christie or Palin, Romney got 25 percent, and Perry and Cain tied at 16 percent. So everyone gained a little bit by the absence of Christie – but Romney gained the most.

And now the “Chris Christie primary” has started. The New Jersey governor did not endorse anybody for president in his announcement Tuesday, so the race is on to woo him. At press time, Perry had put out a statement but Romney had not.

“Chris Christie is a friend, a great governor, and rising star in the Republican Party,” said Perry. “I’m sure this was an exciting and stressful process for Chris, Mary Pat, and his family, but I know they have a bright, successful future ahead of them. Gov. Christie will be a strong asset for the Republican Party as we work to build a national movement to get America working again, reduce the influence of Washington in our lives, and defeat President Obama next year.”

The campaign of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, mired in low single digits, also offered a bouquet to Christie.

“Governor Christie is a tremendous public servant who will be a force in Republican politics for years to come,” said Huntsman campaign manager Matt David in a statement. “Though he will not be entering the presidential race, his message of reforming government and restoring American exceptionalism will not be lost.”

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