More genius than catastrophic, Governor Chris Christie's decision to hold New Jersey's special election for U.S. Senate this October rather than November makes him stronger in his state and pushes forward, not backwards his presidential ambitions.
Even though it's easy for national partisans on both sides of the aisle to depict Christie's decision as self-interested and cowardly (i.e., he was "afraid" to be on the same ballot as the likely Democratic senatorial nominee, Newark Mayor Cory Booker), it's likely to boost his popularity. Like Christie, his fellow Republicans running for the state Senate and the General Assembly are likely to fare better on a November ballot without Booker's presence drawing a large Democratic turnout.
In turn, Democrats, comfortable with their party's ability to retain majority control in New Jersey's state legislature and eager to promote Booker to a national office, are also pleased that Booker would now be able to ascend to the Senate more than a year before they had hoped. Further, Booker's status as an incumbent during the 2014 cycle would provide national Democrats some additional breathing room in what is likely to be an exhausting cycle where the party is set to be playing defense in at least seven states (Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia). And depending on whom Booker draws for an opposition candidate in the midterm, he may even be able to help the national party raise money and stump for other Democrats.
So, if this decision is so good for Democrats, how could this help Christie with a presidential run when, as Cook Report Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy explained, "It's winning the nomination that's a problem"?
Although Sean Trende is correct in saying that, "Chris Christie is a poor fit for [Iowa], even setting aside his definitively Northeastern persona," there is, at least, one data point that exists which suggests an alternative possibility. It's Barack Obama's nomination path in 2008.
That year, Obama won Iowa resoundingly because he: (1) had a huge margin over Clinton among independents (24 percent) who comprised 20 percent of the Democratic caucus electorate; (2) helped recruit large numbers of first-time caucus participants (in 2008, 57 percent said they had not voted in a caucus before, whereas in 2004, only 45 percent were new to the caucuses); and (3) earned an impressive plurality of these first-timers' support (41 percent).
More to the point, in looking at the entire Democratic nomination process, Obama won because he earned a larger majority of convention delegates in the open contests (54.5 percent) than Clinton did in the closed ones (52.8 percent). And despite the fact that there were more open contests than closed ones, since many of the open ones came early on the calendar (e.g., Iowa and South Carolina), they mattered more.
If Christie wins reelection resoundingly, helps the GOP gain more traction in his state and remains popular among Democrats and independents, then he may well discover that he has a plausible path to winning the Republican nomination in 2016. In addition, with his reelection behind him, like Booker for the Democrats, he'll be able to do more to help his party in the midterm than most of his other potential gubernatorial competitors.
Still, the ultimate anti-Obama candidate would need to precisely replicate Obama's campaign to prevail. While perhaps not a likely scenario for 2016, stranger things have happened in politics.
Case in point: an outlandishly blunt Republican governor is a shoe-in for reelection in comfortably blue New Jersey.