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Christie, Kingmaker?



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Chris Christie is not running for president of the United States. That is as true today as it was yesterday, and the governor’s dinner last night with a group of influential Iowa GOP fundraisers set on “drafting” him into the race did nothing to change that fact. But what if that wasn’t the point?

“Just because the governor’s not running doesn’t mean he’s not going to be influential, potentially, in the process,” Mike DuHaime, a top Christie political strategist and RNC veteran tells National Review Online. “I mean he may endorse somebody and he may not, but to the extent that he could get to know some folks who are also going to be influential — obviously folks who are close to [Republican] Gov. [Terry] Branstad in Iowa, potential donors and fundraisers — that’s a good thing.”

The idea for the dinner emerged from a meeting between Christie and Bruce Rastetter — an Iowa agro-entrepreneur, philanthropist, and influential GOP fundraiser — while Christie was in the Hawkeye State campaigning for Branstad last year. But with many in the Republican party worried about the state of the 2012 presidential bench, it came to take on the feel of a call to arms, with Rastetter leading a group of a half-dozen or so Iowa GOP players to New Jersey to prevail upon — or beseech, even beg — Christie to reconsider his position on a 2012 run.

By all accounts, that did not happen. Rastetter tells NRO that although the group “came away feeling even more convinced that this guy has the ability, the common sense, [and] the humility to make a great president,” Christie reaffirmed his belief that he needs to “respect the commitment that he’s made” to the people of New Jersey. (One member of the Christie camp, tongue firmly in cheek, compared the proceedings to watching the Iowans “run into a brick wall.”)

Instead, “informal” and “social” were the word both DuHaime and Bill Palatucci, another senior adviser in Christie’s political shop, used to describe the meal of chicken, ribeye steaks, and (in honor of Iowa) sweet corn served at Drumthwacket, the governor’s official residence in Princeton. But when talk turned, as it was sure to have, to 2012, did Christie offer his thoughts on the Republican field?

“He has made no decision,” was all Palatucci will say. “He’s been very clear that he hasn’t made up his mind whether to endorse somebody.”

But if he did decide to endorse, how much of an impact could Christie have in a place like Iowa? Rastetter tells NRO that Christie “can be influential in anything he decides to do.”

“He commands that kind of respect nationally, and certainly when you meet with him.” Moreover, Rastetter added, “he brings it out in other Republicans across the country. We see that here in Iowa with Governor Branstad and across the country, of encouraging Republicans to be direct and have a no-nonsense approach.”

Indeed, Iowa appears set to be a fractious caucus, and a Christie endorsement could matter. The governor will visit Iowa at least once more before the primary. His office announced last night that the governor, who has made conservative education reform the focus of his second year in office, will give the keynote address at an education conference in Des Moines in July.



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