New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in danger of being bumped from his spot among the top 10 front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination – which would mean he’d lose out on participating in the next prime time GOP debate. But despite his flagging poll numbers, his campaign insists that all’s well in Christie World.
A CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday showed Christie in 11th place, pulling just 3% support among registered GOP voters. If that pattern holds, the governor would not make the cut for CNN’s Republican prime time debate on Sept. 16, in which the top 10 candidates participate. While many of the numbers are tightly bunched within the margin of error, a RealClearPolitics average of polling data also shows Christie in 11th place, thanks in large part to former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s recent rise.
So what happens if Christie finds himself on the outside looking in?
“I think it would be a detriment, a morale blow,” said David Carney, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist who served as the White House’s director of political affairs under President George H.W. Bush. “Donors will rethink their strategy. There’s no way to spin that as a good thing. You need to progress, not regress.”
Those who rank outside the top 10 but meet a minimum requirement of 1% in national polls will participate in a separate debate event, which many have labeled the “kids table.”
Last week, the blog DC Whispers, which cited no sources, stoked rumors that Christie will pull the plug on his 2016 campaign at the end of the month if he fails to gain momentum in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Christie campaign spokeswoman Samantha Smith told msnbc that such speculation was “completely false.”
With real estate mogul Donald Trump at the top of the polls – and hogging much of the limelight – and Fiorina’s surge, Christie has failed to gather much momentum, even as he has been barnstorming the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire. Christie, who narrowly qualified for the first GOP primary debate hosted by Fox News on Aug. 6, was most remembered during that event for feuding with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky over the government’s collection of phone records.
David Redlawsk, the director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and political science professor at Rutgers University, said Christie and Paul’s back-and-forth came across as childish. “The media loves that stuff. I don’t think voters do … Yes, they want personality, but they also want gravitas, they want seriousness. It was seen as squabbling.”
So what is Christie’s strategy? It’s seemingly to go after Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who has been embroiled in controversy around her email and use of a personal server during her time as secretary of state. In recent days, Christie’s campaign has highlighted interviews in which the governor called her arrogance “breathtaking” and criticized her for not answering questions about her email.
The Christie campaign has also fundraised off of Clinton, asking supporters to give $5 or more to receive a “No Way in Hill” bumper sticker.
Christie has also been continuing to zero in on New Hampshire, which many see as a do-or-die state for the governor if he wants any shot of winning the Oval Office. On Wednesday, he’ll be in the Granite State to attend private meetings, hold his 17th town hall meeting there, and take part in an education summit. On Thursday, he’ll participate in a “Conversation with the Candidate” hosted by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and WMUR.
Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray acknowledged that if Christie doesn’t make the top 10 for the CNN debate, his fundraising could be hurt—but he’ll still be able to go to nearby New Hampshire and do what many he says he does best—retail politicking.
“New Hampshire is really the only card that he’s got left in his hand,” said Murray. “And he’s got to play it.”
Even if he’s successful there, some question what’s next. Carney said it looked like Christie was pursuing a majority-New Hampshire strategy. “Any candidate who is running based on winning one state—that strategy never works. You’ve got to be competitive everywhere … You really need to have a national footprint.”