NEW YORK (CBSDC) – The question of whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants to be Mitt Romney’s running mate come the November general election is one he’s heard a lot recently. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t mind answering it.
“As I’ve said all along, I don’t expect to be asked because, I don’t know,” Christie said during a recent event in Manasquan, N.J., as part of his summer tour of shore events. He paused briefly before finishing his statement – “Do I look like a vice president?”
The uproars amongst that favorable crowd were loud and, if anything, clear: “Yes!”
The Manasquan moment was a microcosm of the issue surrounding the outside possibility of Christie being named Romney’s running mate, an idea that excites some and brings caution to others. From the time he made it clear in the fall that he wasn’t pursuing the GOP’s presidential nomination, the speculation swirling around the governor to be presumptive candidate Romney’s number-two guy has not died down. Even after Romney aides and advisers all but put the kybosh on a Romney-Christie ticket by telling the New York Times that Christie’s temper was “unsettling and out of step with Mr. Romney’s temperament,” political pundits will continue to fantasize about the idea of Romney going with someone who isn’t, well, safe. The favorites for the VP nod – Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty and La. Gov. Bobby Jindal – are considered “safe” and in some cases, “dull.” Romney’s wife, Ann, has even hinted that the VP candidate her husband chooses will have the “same personality type.”
But that’s not going to change the idea among some prospective voters that Christie is just what’s needed by Romney, a candidate being depicted by President Barack Obama’s campaign as out of touch with common Americans.
Russell Riley, chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia, told CBSDC that Christie has political attributes that Romney doesn’t have, which, in this case, may not be a good thing if the intention is for voters to focus on Romney.
“With Christie having this larger-than-life personality, this image of him as having high energy and being very plain-spoken, in some respects, selecting him casts a spotlight on Romney’s problems he’s already perceived to have with his own sort of personal charisma and ability to connect with the common man,” Riley said. “In effect, what it does rather than enhancing Romney’s image in this way, it creates a substantial point of contrast.”
To understand the chemistry questions that would be presented in a hypothetical Romney-Christie ticket, it’s important to remember two very notable vice president choices in the past 20 years in Al Gore and Sarah Palin – two examples that went in opposite directions.
“The biggest problem was when the McCain campaign put the two together, the visuals and the energy didn’t communicate what they wanted to communicate,” Riley said.
While the Palin story remains fresh in everyone’s minds with a New York Times bestseller and an HBO movie, what’s forgotten is the criticism received on the part of Bill Clinton’s camp in 1992 upon selecting Gore, a politician deemed too much like Clinton who would bring nothing to the ticket in terms of electoral votes. But the opposite was true, as the two played off each other’s energy, breaking conventional wisdom with a piece of political jiu-jitsu deemed “brilliant” by Riley.
Even with Christie’s healthy approval rating in New Jersey, registered voters in the state aren’t sold on the governor as Romney’s running mate. Fifty-three percent of registered N.J. voters indicated that Christie would be a poor choice for vice president, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. In the same poll, 40 percent of registered N.J. voters think Christie would be the right choice for Romney, a 13 percentage-point discrepancy. The results came less than a month following Christie’s involvement in his state’s disjointed halfway house program, which many thought to be the final nail in the coffin for any private aspirations he had to join Romney on the November ticket.
The poll also laid out the image problem the governor faces within his own state, one that continues to be perpetuated. Dave Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University, told CBSDC that their own polling numbers, as well as those reflected in the Quinnipiac poll, have indicated that Christie is just as likely to be depicted as a bully than as a leader.
History also will play a role in whether Christie, a fringe possibility for the nod, would even be likely for the VP nomination. Among the 47 vice presidents in U.S. history, 15 of them have been governors, good for 32 percent, according to the Center on the American Governor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers. But in the case of the 18 vice presidents to serve since President Calvin Coolidge’s administration, only two of them have been governors. And the likelihood of a two-governor ticket, whether it may involve Christie or Pawlenty, a possible favorite, is even more questionable considering there hasn’t been a two-governor ticket for either party in a general election in 64 years.
If the 2010 midterm elections were any indication, it’s that the party is energized. Yet, questions continue to persist as to whether undecided voters, the Republican base and the influential Tea Party sect can fully support Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. At a June 30 fundraiser in West Virginia, Speaker John Boehner was asked by a voter if Boehner could make a voter love Romney. “No,” he said. “The American people probably aren’t going to fall in love with Mitt Romney.”
This is where Christie could play his biggest role as a fundraiser and on the campaign trail for Romney. Redlawsk said Christie continues to draw sizable crowds that could help Romney in the long months ahead.
Whatever role Romney has in store for Christie, it’s clear that the presumptive GOP nominee will need his political ally from New Jersey more than he may care to acknowledge – both publicly and privately.