Monday, May 09, 2011

Iowans Fly to New Jersey to Meet with Christie

Chasing Christie: So what does this mean for the race for president in 2012? Gary Kirke, a prominent Iowa businessman and major Republican donor, is part of a group with about a half dozen other influential money men from the state who will fly to New Jersey to meet with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie has already said a gazillion times (yes, I counted) that he won't run for president in 2012. And he has told the Iowa group this, as well. Here's the one thing that might make this a little more interesting, though: Christie turned down the group's request last month to come see him. But this time he said, yes. And the group will fly to New Jersey to meet with him on May 31st.

Kirke said Iowans (and the nation, for that matter) shouldn't interpret this as meaning his group doesn't like the current crop of Republican candidates. He said they are all good candidates. But he thinks Christie would be a good campaigner and that would match him up better with President Barack Obama. Kirke told me, "Governor Christie, it doesn't look like he'll run this time. But if he does, I think he has a good chance of winning."

So if Kirke knows this going in that Christie probably won't run, what's the point? He said, "You never give up. I've worked against all types of odds all my life. You know, we still need to go over there and talk him into it, if we can...try to get the door open."

Kirke has already spoken with plenty of candidates this cycle: Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour and Herman Cain. What about Donald Trump? Kirke told me he called Trump to try to come out to New York for a visit. But Trump never called him back. Trump's assistant, Michael Cohen, did talk to Kirke when Cohen visited Des Moines last month.

Kirke said at first he considered Trump "a substantial guy". But he said Trump's speech last month in Las Vegas where he frequently dropped the f-bombs as he complained about the president "turned me off a little". Kirke continued, "I don't think a person who wants to be presidential should really be saying that kind of stuff in a public speech."

So is Kirke done with Trump? He wouldn't say that. Here's what he did say: "I haven't ruled him out. I don't see him as a big chance of winning the nomination."

So what does all of this mean? Kirke isn't saying the rest of the field isn't good enough, although some Iowa Republicans have told me privately they are concerned none of the announced field may be able to beat the president. This is coming, in particular, from the more moderate side of the party, which would rather see campaigning focused on fiscal issues like cutting the federal debt and shrinking the deficit, rather than whether two men should get married. But the fact that Kirke is talking at all, regardless of what he is saying about the rest of the current Republican field, speaks loudly it would seem. Kirke hasn't given a television interview in 7 years. Talking on tv is not something he normally likes to do. But he did this time, when Chris Christie was involved.

Here's the full interview with Kirke. I also included what Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has to say about the Christie recruiting trip.

For his part, Christie doesn't seem to be changing his public words about a run. He appeared this morning on a conservative talk radio show in Philadelphia. Christie hardly sounded like a man who was fired up about campaigning on a cold winter in Iowa. Here are two things that stood out: Christie said, "On a personal level, you've got to feel like you're ready to get on that airplane and fly all over the country and sleep in some bad beds in West Des Moines, Iowa." (Christie campaigned in West Des Moines last year on behalf of Republican Terry Branstad's campaign for governor. But what's wrong with West Des Moines' beds?!)

Christie also said, "When you're sleeping in the Des Moines Marriott and it's 18 below, wind's blowing and alarm clock goes off at 5...and they go, OK, it's time to go out to the factory to campaign, you gotta want it that badly."

Does this sound like a guy who wants to run for president in 2012? Or does he want to finish a term in office as New Jersey's governor first, do prominent speeches across the country, travel the world for some foreign policy experience and then run in 2016, if Republicans fail to take back the White House in 2012?

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