Christie touts Iowa endorsements as he seeks to gain traction in key state

The Philadelphia Inquirer

DES MOINES, Iowa _ As he trumpeted the coveted endorsements of six Iowa businessmen who had urged him to run for president in 2012, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said it didn't bother him that he wasn't automatically the object of their affection this time around.tmpplchld "I don't really care who chases who, as long as we end up being married," Christie said at a news conference Tuesday at the State Historical Museum. He was introduced by agribusiness millionaire Bruce Rastetter _ the leader of the effort to draft Christie in 2012, at a time when the first-term governor had become a Republican Party star.tmpplchld While his political fortunes have shifted, Christie held up the endorsements Tuesday as a mark of faith in his campaign and pledged to compete hard in Iowa, where he trails much of the GOP pack in polls.tmpplchld But he offered little additional insight on his strategy beyond saying he intended to spend time and "do very, very well" in Iowa.tmpplchld "What's the plan? You'll see it play out," said Christie, who has concentrated much of his effort on New Hampshire. "You're asking for the end of the movie." He said his team had a plan, and "my job now is to execute. ... I'll be in every important part of the state." tmpplchld In addition to Rastetter, Christie was endorsed by Gary Kirke, a casino executive and investor; Dennis Elwell, a real estate developer; Mike Richards, a businessman and former health care executive; Mikel Derby, a lobbyist and former campaign operative for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad; and Jim Kersten, a former state senator and former Branstad staffer.tmpplchld Political analysts offered a mixed view as to what extent the endorsements _ which had been sought by other Republican candidates _ would benefit Christie's campaign.tmpplchld "Several people on a mountaintop are making a decision to endorse him, but I don't know that it affects the people in the village down below," said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines. "Possibly it might open up some wallets."tmpplchld The endorsements do not erase Christie's main Iowa hurdle _ "the dominance of Christian conservatives," Goldford said. "It's a tough road, even for a hard-charging conservative Republican from New Jersey."tmpplchld But the backing of Rastetter and the others could boost Christie's campaign, depending on what they do on the governor's behalf, said Tim Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa.tmpplchld If the endorsements suggest Christie will ramp up efforts in Iowa, "there may be a difference in terms of how Iowa voters perceive Christie," Hagle said.tmpplchld Rastetter said Monday night that "a number of us are encouraging" Christie to spend more time in Iowa and that he thought Christie's blunt style would appeal in a race led by "nontraditional candidates."tmpplchld People are "tired of the dysfunction in Washington," said Rastetter, who hosted a town-hall meeting Monday for Christie.tmpplchld A number of voters at Christie's events liked his straightforward manner, though they weren't ready to commit to his campaign.tmpplchld "He's kind of a tough guy, and I like that," said Howard Smith, 83, a retired gas station operator who attended Tuesday's news conference. Smith said he would consider backing Christie "if he gains some traction." Christie garnered 2 percent in a Des Moines Register poll last month of likely Republican caucus-goers.tmpplchld tmpplchld Mark Wampler, 63, a semiretired administrative law judge at Tuesday's event, said Christie's governing experience appealed: "You've got to think he could probably accomplish things in Washington, D.C."tmpplchld Others viewed that experience differently: "He's pretty much been a career politician," said Richard Baldwin, 79, retired from the petrochemical industry.tmpplchld Baldwin, who attended Christie's town-hall meeting Monday, said he thought Christie had done a good job managing New Jersey, but "I do think we've got to get the entrenched politicians out of government."tmpplchld tmpplchld Some of the endorsers announced Tuesday had previously seemed cool on Christie's chances.tmpplchld In an August interview, Kirke expressed more interest in former tech CEO Carly Fiorina than Christie. "He hasn't been catching fire this time," said Kirke, who gave $1,000 to a super PAC backing Fiorina.tmpplchld In a joint statement with Richards, Kirke said Tuesday that "after much contemplation and connecting several times with Gov. Christie over the last two months, we determined that he and his record best meet what we seek in a president."tmpplchld Asked what he had done to court the group's support, Christie joked, "Flowers, candy, wine." He would not comment on what financial support they might provide, calling the question "unseemly."tmpplchld Earlier this year, Christie was one of nearly a dozen GOP presidential candidates to participate in a forum Rastetter hosted on agricultural issues. Christie voiced support for the federal renewable fuel standard, an issue important to Iowa's farm economy. Rastetter's background is in ethanol and pork production.tmpplchld Christie also attended a party hosted by Rastetter in August.tmpplchld Critics have accused Christie of vetoing a ban on pig gestation crates _ little used in New Jersey, but a key issue for animal-rights advocates _ to curry favor in Iowa.tmpplchld Christie called the legislation "a solution in search of a problem." His veto was cheered by Branstad, who said he had spoken with Christie about the bill.tmpplchld Christie met Tuesday with Branstad, a long-serving Republican whom Christie has supported, including through his role last year as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.tmpplchld Branstad has pledged to remain neutral in the primary.tmpplchld A spokesman said that the Iowa governor "routinely meets" with candidates and that "there was no discussion about the governor endorsing." tmpplchld ___tmpplchld (Staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.)tmpplchld tmpplchld ___tmpplchld (c)2015 The Philadelphia Inquirertmpplchld Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.comtmpplchld Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.tmpplchld

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