If Christie does become the first Republican since 1985 to earn at least 50 percent of the vote in a New Jersey gubernatorial contest, he will earn bragging rights that could bolster an eventual White House bid. And with the 2016 cycle expected to kick into gear earlier than past campaigns, he will need whatever boost he can get…

That blowback may have disregarded Christie’s well-established conservative record on fiscal matters along with his less well-known positions on social issues. Last year, for instance, he vetoed a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey and publicly urged Mitt Romney to pick a pro-life running mate…

But with hard-right prospective candidates like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum fighting for elbow room in what will likely be a crowded field, the niche that Christie could carve as a conservative pragmatist — and someone who can win in November — is apparent.

“The most important thing to do this year is to win,” said one Christie ally, who likely would play a key role in a future presidential bid. “Some primary voters may not like the way he does it with crossover [Democratic] endorsements, et cetera. The good thing about him is that he doesn’t really care.”