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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Chris Christie Won't Run For New Jersey Governor in 2013

One of the laws of survival, whether in nature or in politics (arguably, one and the same), involves avoiding battle when one is weak or -- just as dangerously -- perceived as such.

This is why I predict New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will not run for re-election in 2013.  Should Mitt Romney win the presidency, there is a good chance Christie will be asked to join Romney's cabinet. Should Barack Obama win re-election, Christie may become the presumptive establishment choice in 2016 by virtue of his selection as national convention keynote speaker. (Note the emphasis in italics.)

Christie clearly has his eyes on national office.  His travel schedule gives this away.  His tenure in Trenton will be brief.  But Christie will decline to run for re-election next year -- if he doesn't step down first -- because there is the risk that re-election will expose his electoral shortcomings and thereby jeopardize his 2016 prospects. Christie may be at the apex of his popularity, and from here on out he may be in a steady decline. A 2013 re-election campaign would thus present a greater risk of damage than an opportunity for advancement.

This strategy has a historical parallel with another legendary (and still alive) former Northeastern governor: Mario Cuomo.  New York's former Governor Cuomo ran for a third term in 1990 against a no-name, know-nothing named Pierre Rinfret.  Rinfret was, by most accounts, either a disaster or plain nuts, and promptly got about 26% on the Republican ticket.  However, the little-known Conservative Party candidate, Herbert London, got about 23% and seriously challenged the Republicans for second place (an accomplishment that would have upset all the party patronage the Republicans still enjoyed).  These numbers meant that third-termer Cuomo only got 51% against two weak opponents and divided opposition.  These numbers showed clear weakness and fueled visions of a Republican upset in 1994 that became reality when George Pataki rode the mid-term enthusiasm over Newt Gingrich's Contract with America and conservative backlash against, among other things, HillaryCare. 

Christie would be a formidable candidate for re-election in 2013. However, he has purposely alienated core conservative constituencies like Second Amendment advocates, illegal immigration opponents, the Tea Party and pro-lifers, of which the latter view his pro-choice lieutenant governor with disapproval, while embracing windmill energy subsidies and appointing Muslim advocates to the judiciary.  A Christie re-election bid would expose his ideological weak spots and leave him vulnerable to attack when Republican presidential contenders begin to emerge (and that horse race is already beginning).  Moreover, a less than convincing victory over either a primary opponent or general election opponent would raise questions about his electability and damage his fundraising abilities for a presidential bid.  By declining to run in 2013, Christie can capitalize on his mystique, keep his aura largely undiminished, and avoid the battle scars until he hits the early primary or caucus states of New Hampshire and Iowa.

Eric Dixon is a New York-based election lawyer and political and legal strategist.

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