As he crisscrosses New Jersey in a final campaign push, Republican Gov. Chris Christie has made clear to donors, top supporters and the national GOP that he wants to do more than just notch a big re-election win next Tuesday.

He sees his campaign—and particularly his aggressive outreach to nontraditional GOP voters—as a national model for his party.

Racking up big margins among women and even winning outright among Hispanics, as polls suggest he may, would position him well in a 2016 Republican presidential field as the party continues to struggle elsewhere to widen its appeal…

“This is a model for the party in general,” said Bill Palatucci, Mr. Christie’s campaign chairman and a national GOP committeeman. “His message is that you can’t come to any community and ask for them to vote for you a month before the election.”

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Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s lead in the New Jersey gubernatorial race against Democratic state senator Barbara Buono has slimmed slightly, but he’s still ahead by 19 points, according to a new poll released Friday…

[T]he poll reveals that Christie is firmly holding the Republican vote, with 94 percent of Republicans saying they will vote for him. By contrast, only 76 percent of Democrats support Buono. Twenty-three percent of Democrats in the state intend to vote for Christie.

Christie is also holding a strong lead among independent voters, 80 percent of which say they will vote for Christie. Buono is currently carrying only 18 percent of independent likely voters, according to the poll.

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says his greeting of President Barack Obama when the president arrived in Atlantic City to tour the devastation from Hurricane Sandy was not, as many have said, a “hug.”…

“It was a handshake like you would shake hands with anyone,” he said. “It was a perfectly natural, casual, normal type of greeting between two people. And you know, it’s become legend.”

Christie said the famed snapshot — showing the two leaders gripping hands and Obama with a hand on Christie’s shoulder — portrayed Christie’s bipartisan side, incited anger among some Republicans, and has been a constant source of questioning, even by those who haven’t seen the photo.

“If he deserved to be trashed, I would have, as I had many times before that,” he said. “But he didn’t deserve it.”

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To date, Christie has received the support of 25 prominent African-American elected officials and pastors from across New Jersey in addition to 52 Democratic politicos. One important reason given in testimony after testimony is Governor Christie’s support for school choice and The Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would have funded a pilot program offering state scholarships to low income students, allowing them to leave failing public schools. Democrats blocked the bill in the statehouse…

But there’s another more basic reason for Christie’s surprising African-American endorsements: he shows up. At town hall after town hall, Christie has come to inner city communities and answered questions directly, without pandering or prevaricating. Sadly, that itself is a lesson for Republicans, who too often avoid campaigning or appearing in inner-city neighborhoods, compounding their electoral disadvantage by apparent disinterest. As Mayor Michael Blunt of Chesilhurst, an African-American Democrat and Christie supporter explained to Josh Barro: “He talks to them. He makes them feel comfortable.”

Keep in mind that no New Jersey Republican has won more than 17 percent of the African-American vote in twenty years – and Christie won only 9 percent of the African-American vote when he first ran in 2009. He has more than tripled his support after four years in office, while Washington has only grown more bitterly polarized. And that’s because he’s reached out while also offering strong leadership, reminding Republicans that the two principles are not mutually exclusive.

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PPP’s newest national survey finds that in the wake of the shutdown, Republican voters now view Ted Cruz as their party’s leader. 21% picked Cruz to 17% for Chris Christie, and 15% for John Boehner. Cruz finished well ahead of the other GOP Senators we tested- Rand Paul got 9%, John McCain 7%, and Mitch McConnell only 4%. Mitt Romney at 8% and Sarah Palin at 4% were the other people we tested.

Numbers PPP will release next week show Ted Cruz would be an exceedingly weak Presidential candidate in the general election. The good news for the GOP is that even if the party base sees Cruz as their leader Democrats and independents actually see Chris Christie, who has far broader approval, as the leader of the Republican Party these days. With Democrats Christie gets 23% to 17% for Boehner and only 10% for Cruz. And with independents Christie gets 25% to 17% for Cruz and 10% for Boehner. Even if Republicans themselves see Cruz as their leader, they’re better off with everyone else seeing it as Christie.

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Here’s how one plugged-in Republican consultant responded when asked how we should rank the current 2016 field:

“Christie is in the 1 slot now and forevermore — he’s about to get huge margins in his historic reelection in a blue state –he’s the successful model for our Party (from a political perspective) and his governing success is exactly what our country needs from a fiscal perspective. He can compete in about 40 of 50 states. Who else can do that AND run as a conservative? No one.”

Christie is increasingly seen as the one candidate who might be able to bridge the divide between the establishment and the tea party that is in the process of ripping the party apart. In that way, Republicans are hoping that he can do for their side what Bill Clinton did in the early 1990s for a Democratic party that was similarly divided — heal what looks to be an un-healable wound through force of personality and a demonstrated record of success as a governor…

[T]here is a growing sense within the Republican political intelligentsia that Christie and only Christie is positioned to solve the major problems that will face the party in 2016. Because of that, we are moving the governor of New Jersey into the top slot in our rankings of the 10 candidates most likely to wind up as the Republican presidential nominee in three years time.

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In an excerpt from their new book Double Down: Game Change 2012, TIME’s Mark Halperin and New York’s John Heilemann look at Mitt Romney’s on-again, off-again flirtation with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to be his running-mate. Codenamed “Pufferfish,” in the aquatic-themed parlance of the campaign’s vetting team, Christie was a constant thorn in the side of the Romney campaign, going back to a 2011 demand that the eventual Republican nominee refrain from fundraising in the Garden State until Christie bestowed his endorsement. The New Jersey Governor’s tardiness to joint fundraising events peeved the punctual candidate, and Christie’s demand for lavish travel arrangements upset Romney’s staff. But Christie’s ability to passionately explain the candidate’s message to donors and voters made him a favorite for the spot, especially with Romney’s chief strategist Stuart Stevens.

The campaign passed over the potential 2016 candidate amid concerns about his ability to stand up to public scrutiny. The authors quote from the campaign’s secret vetting report on Christie, listing the red flags that kept him off the ticket and could keep him out of the White House, should he choose to run in 2016. The report noted that Christie had failed to fully explain a number of issues. These included information on an SEC settlement by the New Jersey governor’s brother, Todd, the terms of a defamation lawsuit settlement signed by Christie, information on Christie’s previous lobbying clients, medical records on his personal health and the citizenship status of Christie’s domestic employees. “If Christie’s possible selection is to move forward, these items should be obtained,” the document read.

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I asked what reporters and pundits and movement conservatives and liberals miss when they look at modern politics.

“I would say this: I think that people who observe what’s going on in New Jersey . . . many of them completely misevaluate what’s going on here in this election. They misunderstand what people want from someone in political life right now. I think [voters] want someone who’s going to solve their problems. And who’s gonna be practical. And who’s gonna listen to them. And who has a philosophy that they can live with—not that they [always] agree with. The only person that I agree with all the time is me. I don’t agree with anybody else all the time, and I think most people are like that.

“I think what [pundits] are missing here is everybody tries to kinda put everything in a little box . . . and I don’t think that’s what politics is. Politics is a feeling. It’s a visceral reaction to someone. Especially when you’re voting for an executive.

“So I think that everybody who tries to analyze this and put it into little boxes—which boxes does he check, which boxes doesn’t he check—I don’t think that’s the way people vote. And if that is the way people vote then no one’s going to be able to explain next Tuesday. No one will be able to explain it.”

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