New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, apparently on the verge of a big re-election victory Tuesday, said he expects his anticipated win to send a message beyond his home state as he ponders a 2016 presidential bid.
"I'm not planning for it," Christie told NBC. "I just think it's inevitable. ... [P]eople look at elections and they try to discern things about what they mean at that moment, and what they mean for the future. And I think that what people are going to see is so unusual for what our party has created in the last couple years, that invariably people are going to draw lessons from it – and I hope that they do."
If Republican Christie wins in his normally Democratic state, as the polls suggest, it would be a rare positive moment after months of political setbacks for the GOP. The party's 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost to President Obama a year ago, and more recently, congressional Republicans have sunk to new lows in public approval for being overly ideological and obstructionist.
But if Christie comes out on top Tuesday, he could argue that he has proven that a conservative can govern effectively in a Democratic state and win re-election. Republican strategists say this would give Christie the opportunity to argue that he could end or limit the ongoing dysfunction in Washington but still adhere to conservative values.
Some GOP strategists say Christie's potential presidential campaign could borrow a page from George W. Bush's approach in 2000. Bush and his supporters used his re-election as Texas governor in 1998 as an effective springboard to the GOP nomination and the White House. They said his Texas win demonstrated wide appeal beyond the GOP.
But Christie has a problem. He would be a favorite of the Republican establishment at a time when tea party conservatives play a crucial role in GOP primaries and don't have much use for that establishment.
For his part, Romney told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that even though he didn't select Christie as his vice presidential running mate in 2012, the governor remains a very strong potential presidential candidate in 2016. "Chris could easily become our nominee and save our party and help get this nation on the right track again," Romney said. "They don't come any better than Chris Christie."
Romney said other Republicans could also perform well as the presidential nominee, including Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was Romney's running mate in 2012, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Romney said, "It's kind of early to say who is the most electable and who would be the favorite candidate. But you look at Chris Christie and say, 'That's a very impressive guy with a great track record, with a demonstrated ability to work across the aisle.'... It's a pretty compelling story."
In the other marquee race on Tuesday, Democrat Terry McAuliffe seems likely win the governorship in Virginia by defeating Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli. This would give the Democrats and Republicans a split in the major gubernatorial races of the autumn.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.