Chris Christie takes state chopper to son's baseball game

When he got there, he hopped in a limo that drove him … 100 yards to the field.

Right before the lineup cards were being exchanged on the field, a noise from above distracted the spectators as the 55-foot long helicopter buzzed over trees in left field, circled the outfield and landed in an adjacent football field. Christie disembarked from the helicopter and got into a black car with tinted windows that drove him about a 100 yards to the baseball field…

The governor had no public events on his schedule, offering no insight to where he might have been traveling from. He had a private meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion, in Princeton. He is meeting with a group of Iowa donors who have publically expressed a desire to persuade him to run for president in 2012.

Like Drew says, this is undeniably bad optics for a cost-cutting conservative famous for squeezing unions to help ease the budget crunch, but the state police insist that the extra cost to taxpayers was literally nothing. Except, presumably, for the tank of gas they used for the flight, which at today’s prices couldn’t have been more than — what? Two, maybe three million bucks?

Fuentes said the time police pilots fly the governor count as training time.

“It is important to understand that State Police helicopters fly daily homeland security missions, and use flight time for training purposes, more so lately as we acclimate our pilots to the new aircraft,” Fuentes [said]…

“Therefore, there is no additional cost to taxpayers or the State Police budget, nor is there any interference with our daily mission by adding the state’s chief executive to any of these trips,” Fuentes said. “Any flights transporting the Governor would be subordinated to priority needs for our aircraft including rescue and emergent law enforcement missions.”

Democrats are hassling him anyway, which is good politics. The more they can make him look like an entitled fatcat politician, the less traction his fiscal “sacrifice” message will get. And given that this happened on the same day as his ultra-hyped meeting with Iowa Republicans, it’s doubly bad: Not only is he using state property for personal business, the left will say, but he’s using his state office as governor to advance his national ambitions. Ben Smith wonders, in fact, whether Christie’s precariousness in deep-blue Jersey makes it impossible for him to run for president right now since it would detonate his chances at being reelected governor and all but end his political career if he failed to win the nomination. Makes sense, but on the other hand, the more fragile Christie seems at home, the more inclined he may be to jump into the GOP race on the theory that he won’t be reelected governor under any circumstances. Now or never?

Exit question: If he did jump in, from whom would he steal the most votes in Iowa? Romney’s ahead right now with 21 percent, but both Palin and Herman Cain are close behind at 15 apiece. The conventional wisdom, I think, is that he’d rev up the base, but he has no real social con cred vis-a-vis people like Palin and Bachmann. He’d have to try to fill Daniels’s niche as the budget hawk, which I suspect would pull more votes from the center than the right. Bad news for Romney and, especially, Pawlenty.