Not long ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the prohibitive frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Today, he increasingly looks like a longshot candidate.
According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Christie maintained the support of 20 percent of Republican voters nationwide as recently as December, 2013. Today, he commands the support of just over 6 percent of the Republican electorate. And the trajectory of Christie’s appeal is moving in the wrong direction from the perspective of the Garden State governor’s supporters.
“But there is no such thing as a national Republican primary,” you say. Christie supporters will find little comfort in the polls of early state primary and caucus voters, too. In Iowa, the latest Quinnipiac University poll found only 4 percent of likely caucus-goers in the Hawkeye state back a Christie candidacy. In New Hampshire, where he will have to rebound dramatically if he is to remain competitive, the latest NBC News/Marist poll found the governor netting the support of 13 percent of the state’s Republican primary voters. In that survey, he narrowly trails Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
With the wind in Team Christie’s face, the governor was quizzed by conservative radio host Laura Ingraham over his ebbing appeal to conservative voters on the stage at CPAC on Thursday.
Ingraham cited the results of a recent Public Policy Polling survey that found Christie acquiring the support of only 5 percent of Republican presidential primary voters. “How do you overcome that deficit?” she asked.
“Is the election next week?” he replied Socratically. “Everybody said there’s no way Chris Christie could win in New Jersey in 2009. And then they said, ‘Well, he won, but it was because the other guy was bad, not because he was good.’”
Christie went on to reiterate his presidential pitch, which centers on his appeal to voters in a deep blue state, not to mention his ability to secure the support of a majority of New Jersey Hispanic and women voters and 22 percent of the African-American vote in 2013. “If I decide to run for president, I’m not worried about what polls say 21 months before we’re going to elect the President of the United States,” he added with confidence.
If that sounds a lot like “the only poll that matters is the one taken on Election Day,” e.g. the universal declaration of a losing candidacy, it does to me as well. Ingraham’s question was a valid one. Christie is in trouble with conservatives, and surely has a strategy to address that self-evident impediment to his presidential prospects. What might that be? Her question went unanswered amid a charismatic flourish of dismissiveness. If Christie has a strategy to stop the bleeding, and I’d wager he does, he declined to elaborate on it.
Polls at this stage of the race most certainly do matter. They determine a candidate’s ability to fundraise and secure talent to staff a campaign. What’s more, 12 candidates are unlikely to make it onto the debate stage when the candidates face each other beginning in the early autumn. Some debate hosts are going to have to determine which candidates to cut, and they will look at public polls when they make that determination.
Oh, and as for the claim that no one thought Christie could win in New Jersey in 2009, he led his incumbent opponent in every public poll in that state taken between February and September (sometimes by double-digit margins). Only as Election Day neared did the state’s many Democratic voters begin to “come home” to Jon Corzine or to buck both parties and declare their support for the independent candidate. By the fall of that year, it had become a tight race. Anyone who said Christie couldn’t win in 2009, however, wasn’t paying close attention to the polls. In that same vein, anyone who says Christie doesn’t have a real problem with voters today is not closely watching the polls. Sometimes, the data does tell the whole story.