Can Chris Christie reverse his ebbing political fortunes?

This week, Jazz made the compelling observation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie might be in the worst position of all the many potential GOP presidential aspirants. A recent CBS News poll showed that he has among the highest name recognition and the lowest level of support for a 2016 campaign of any of his potential rivals. This suggests that a majority of Republicans have already made up their minds about the Garden State governor, and a plurality of respondents are cold to the idea of a presidential bid.

National Republicans join New Jersey residents who are rapidly souring on their blunt governor. A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday showed Christie’s job approval rating under water at 46 to 48 percent – his worst performance in nearly four years.

“Almost two-thirds of New Jersey voters responding say that Christie has strong leadership qualities, but half say he is not honest and trustworthy and 51% say he does not care about their needs and problems,” USA Today reported.

The fates are fickle. Christie, who in 2012 was the subject of a presidential draft movement so strong that an otherwise unremarkable speech at the Regan Library was carried on every cable news network in the off chance that he might be persuaded by adoring audience members to challenge Mitt Romney, has been abandoned by Republicans.

But fortunes at this stage of a presidential race are always in flux. While the Republican primary is no longer invisible, prospective GOP candidates are still far more focused on winning the support of the donor class than the average primary voter. Have you heard from Jeb Bush lately? No, but rest assured that he is busily competing behind the scenes in the GOP’s donor primary.

Over at Business Insider, reporter Hunter Walker recently investigated what prospects Christie has for turning his 2016 hopes around. One unnamed ally of the New Jersey governor told Walker that Team Christie believes he can still compete with Bush and Romney among high-dollar Republican donors, but the source also indicated that part of the governor’s pitch would rest on his acumen as a campaigner:

“Is there enough space for all three of them? No. Someone’s got to win. At the end of the day, there’s only one winner,” said the Christie ally. “Whether it’s Mitt, Christie, or Scott Walker for that matter, they’re all going to have a threshold of money to do what they need to do.”

And once the primary is underway, the ally expressed certainty Christie could make headway that would help him build a wider base of support than his rivals. Specifically, they said they were confident Christie would be better at in-person campaigning than any of his potential opponents.

“Let’s not forget that at the end of the day this is about candidates and their message. Christie is a superior communicator who operates well in the face of the media circus,” they said. “Voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are going to kick the tires and make a decision about who can win and best lead the country. Christie has the raw talent and experience and is as well-positioned as anyone.”

Dismissible as they may be, the early 2016 polls of Republican voters do not inspire much confidence in the notion that Christie can out-campaign his many GOP rivals. Conceding that point, Walker’s source indicated that Christie may never even pull the trigger on a presidential bid if he determines that there is no longer any space for him in the race.

“There’s going to be a donor primary for the first half of 2015. So, if Christie decides to get in, you’ve got to see how he performs early,” the unnamed source said. “If the money isn’t there, he doesn’t have to hit the start button — but I fully expect the money will be there.”

It sounds like Team Christie is leaving the door open for the governor to walk away from the 2016 race entirely. If that happens, it would be a spectacular reversal of political fortunes for the figure who not long ago was presumed to be the most likely to serve as the GOP’s next presidential standard-bearer. Of course, there is plenty of campaign left and this revelation will surely not be the last surprise of the Republican primary race.

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