Christie’s deviations from party orthodoxy have included his support for comprehensive immigration reform and stricter gun control, his belief in the contribution of human activity to global warming and the need to pursue green energy over oil drilling, and his warning to fellow Republicans against Muslim bashing during the 2010 Ground Zero mosque debate. All of which could make for a formidable general-election candidate, but creates roadblocks in a Republican primary race.

“It’s not a glass ceiling, it’s an iron ceiling,” says New York political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “He’s the perfect conservative Democrat. He’s a lousy conservative Republican.”

But a second New York consultant, Jimmy Siegel, argues that Christie can break through. “He’s an interesting, charismatic figure, sort of a lowbrow reality-show star, the political version of Jersey Shore—and he’s getting good ratings,” Siegel says. “The fact that he’s taking on his own party doesn’t necessarily mean that the Republicans will hold that against him.”…

Zaro, chief of New Jersey’s office of economic growth under both Christie and Jon Corzine, the Democratic governor Christie defeated in 2009, is himself a Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 and voted for Obama this election and last. But in 2016 he hopes to vote for Christie. “He is what this country is crying out for—somebody who grasps the big-picture issues, can rally great numbers of people behind him, and be that uniter, pulling Democrats and Republicans. I’ll be with him wherever he goes.”