It’s a good to be Chris Christie these days.
The New Jersey governor won a second election this week, just a few weeks after his landslide re-election victory: chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
The RGA chair is a largely ceremonial role. But in it, Christie will travel the country campaigning for other Republicans in gubernatorial races in 2014, a job that many see as ground work for a potential White House run.
The mediagenic New Jerseyite says 2016 is a long way off. His more immediate goal is getting other Republicans elected in the 36 gubernatorial races next year.
“My focus is going to be raising the funds that are necessary to be able to get the stories of these governors out to the citizens of their state,” he told reporters this week at the annual RGA meeting in Arizona, “and to then move forward from there to help them by getting on the ground and campaigning and amplifying those stories.”
Christie at the moment is the envy of his party. He cruised to re-election by broadening his appeal to Democrats and independents, blacks and Latinos — all groups the GOP has had trouble connecting with.
Christie’s brand of inclusiveness is what Republicans hope will rub off on other gubernatorial candidates next year.
He told NBC that Republicans have to show up to places they aren’t always comfortable.
“I got 4.7 percent of the vote in Irvington [N.J.] in 2009,” he said. “I went there [during the recent campaign], and there were more people in the church where did the town hall than voted for me in 2009. You go and you show up and you listen, and you start to make your argument about your policies. And I think the results of the election show that that’s the kind of engagement that we need as Republicans all across the country.”
Christie’s RGA duties will have him crisscrossing the country for photo ops, fundraisers and stump speeches, fueling speculation he’s readying a White House run.
Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi and former chair of the Republican Governors Association, says Christie’s focus will be on winning governors’ races by contrasting Republican governors’ records with that of the current president.
“We Republicans will be tickled for the public to look at the difference between Christie’s record in divided government and Obama’s record in divided government,” Barbour says.
While Christie generally wins praise for his record, he is also known for his brashness, like his response last year to a reporter asking a question he deemed off-topic.
“Are, are you stupid?” he said. “On topic, on topic. Next question … good. Thank you all very much and I’m sorry for the idiot over there.”
Or in 2011, when a New Jersey voter submitted a question to a TV station asking why it’s fair for the governor to cut public school funding when he sends his kids to private school.
“Gail, first of all it’s none of your business,” he said. “I don’t ask you where you send your kids to school. Don’t bother me where I send mine.”
Ari Fleischer, media strategist and former press secretary for former President George W. Bush, says Chirstie needs to tone down the tough-guy side of his persona.
“It won’t play well if he’s the guy whose finger is pointing and pounding you in the chest and is giving lectures on TV,” he says. “It comes across as a little too tough, a little too me, and not enough country and not enough us.”
Christie wouldn’t be the first governor to use the chairmanship to further a presidential campaign. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and last year’s nominee, Mitt Romney, were the most recent to do so.
But Fleischer says Christie will need more than the chairmanship to win the nomination in 2016.
“Being an effective, reformist, conservative governor is an effective springboard, but in and of itself, it’s not the be all and end all,” Fleischer says. “It’s not what propels people to victory.”
So who was the last former chairman of the RGA to go all the way to the White House?
Some fella named Ronald Reagan.