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Christie snags support of influential Iowa Republicans

Six influential Republicans announced they are backing him once again for the nation's highest office. Whether that translates into votes is yet to be seen.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s struggling 2016 campaign received a boost on Tuesday when a group of influential Iowa Republicans — who four years ago hopped on a private plane to the Garden State in a failed effort to convince Christie to run for president — announced they are backing him once again for the nation's highest office. 

Six of the seven original donors and activists, including agribusiness millionaire Bruce Rastetter, made the endorsement public alongside Christie at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines Tuesday.

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“We encouraged him to run [four years ago] because we believed he had a bold leadership style, he had conviction and principle, and he would make a great president,” Rastetter said. "And so we think about four years later and today’s cycle, all those same things hold even more true."

Whether or not the endorsements translate into actual votes in the early primary state is yet to be seen. Christie, after all, has been spending the majority of his time campaigning in New Hampshire. And he hasn’t been gaining much momentum in the Hawkeye State so far. According to an average of polling data focused on the Iowa GOP caucuses, the governor is pulling in just 1.3% support.

Tim Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa, called the endorsements “important, at least to a certain extent,” especially because the Republican field is stronger and much bigger than in 2012. “They still think Christie is their guy. The follow through is the big question — whether or not these people will really do things to help Christie’s campaign.”

Hagle also pointed to Christie’s limited time in Iowa. “Candidates need to be here to make their case,” he said.

At the announcement on Tuesday, Christie promised to “compete hard” in Iowa, joking, “By the time we get to February, you’ll be tired of seeing me.” He also acknowledged how the group of GOPers flew to New Jersey in 2011 — at the height of his popularity — to tell Christie he was a better option than eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney. “I don’t have any regrets for not running four years ago,” the governor said. “And here’s the better news: The American people should have no regrets that I didn’t run four years ago. I wasn’t ready.”

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Christie has seemingly been laying the groundwork in Iowa for the better part of a year. He frequently campaigned for Gov. Terry Branstad when he was chairman of the Republican Governors Association. And critics speculated the governor was trying to win Rastetter’s over when he vetoed a controversial pig-welfare bill in New Jersey last year. The legislation was popular among his constituents but was very unpopular among pig farmers in Iowa, the country’s largest pork producer.

Besides Rastetter, other Christie backers on Tuesday included commercial real estate chairman Danny Elwell, Wild Rose Casino and Resort founder Gary Kirke, vice chairman of the board of directors for Wild Rose Dr. Mike Richards, legislative liason for the Department of Transportation Mikel Derby, and former Iowa State Sen. Jim Kersten. Cam Sutton, the seventh business leaders who tried to convince Christie to run in 2011, is not weighing in this year because of his current job with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.