Bob Kazimour had a direct message for Chris Christie.
“You’re the only one on the list right now that can win,” the retired Cedar Rapids business owner told New Jersey’s governor.”Alright,” Christie responded, as he worked his way through a jam-packed restaurant in Marion, Iowa.
“The Democrats were smart,” Kazimour added. “They tried to get you early.”
“They did,” Christie responded.
“They knew you were the lead dog and they were smart,” Kazimour continued.
“Here I am, though, Bob, aren’t I?” Christie said.
And yes, there he was, spending a full day in the state that will cast the first votes in the 2016 race.
On the day that Democrat Hillary Clinton was appearing in Christie’s own home state:
While Christie was away, Clinton was at play in the Garden State.
The book-signing tour of the former first lady in New Jersey and the fundraising swing of the Jersey governor in Iowa, the premier caucus state of the presidential nominating season, had a certain fast-forward to 2016 air to it.
“If it comes down to Christie and Hillary in the election, we’ll be very happy with that. She’d be the sure winner,” said Jane Parker, 56, a CPA from nearby Upper Saddle River. “Christie has no political experience outside this state.”
At MJ’s Restaurant in Marion, Iowa, Christie dove right into presidential-style campaigning, shaking virtually every hand and posing for dozens of photos. When one man said he needed a second picture because the first one didn’t turn out, Christie didn’t even snap. He just smiled and posed.
Christie’s Iowa trip — along with a July 31 stop in New Hampshire — represents his most significant effort yet to return to the presidential arena following the George Washington Bridge controversy. Christie hadn’t been in Iowa since December 2011, when he campaigned for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ahead of the January 2012 Iowa caucuses.
Christie’s appearances were officially part of his responsibilities as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He mostly traveled with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is seeking a sixth term in November and is heavily favored in the race.
Branstad and Christie attended two fundraisers, one for the governor’s re-election and one for the RGA. Christie also headlined a fundraiser for Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen. “I think he’s right at home here,” Branstad said in a brief interview. “I think people see he’s the real deal, and I think people want to get to know him bett
Christie told reporters he’s in no rush to make a decision about a potential 2016 White House bid.
“While I appreciate the encouragement — it’s incredibly flattering and gratifying — in the end, that’s a decision you make in here,” he said, motioning to his chest. Christie said he’d gotten “much encouragement” to run during his Iowa visit.
Asked if he is concerned that about one third of Iowa Republicans view him unfavorably, as the latest poll suggests, Christie shot right back. “Only a third?” he said. “That’s not bad. I’ll take it.”
Asked if Iowans “love” him, as he’s previously suggested, Christie said they do. “Every time I come here to Iowa, I get a great sense of affection and respect from the folks here, but that doesn’t mean you are going to be universally loved,” he said.
Asked by a reporter whether he is conservative enough for Iowa Republicans, Christie replied, “Who knows?” before offering a deeper take. “What I think happens is that people get to know you and they make a judgment on you,” he said. “They don’t necessarily put you in any kind of box. The box they ultimately put you in is ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ All the rest of the boxes really are meaningless.”
Several Republicans interviewed said they’re weren’t concerned about New Jersey’s traffic problems. “When he speaks you know it is from the heart and from experience,” said Karen Molacek, a retired engineering assistant from Cedar Rapids who wants Christie to run.
The 2016 White House field hasn’t even taken shape yet, and Clinton is already making appearances in Christie’s home state.
Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presumed frontrunner for her party’s presidential nomination in two years, was in suburban Ridgewood to sign copies of her memoir, “Hard Choices.” As lines snaked through nearby parking lots into the steamy basement of the independent BookEnds, the symbolism wasn’t lost that Christie was in Iowa stumping on behalf of Republican Branstad.
Clinton, clad in a green pants suit behind a table as reporters and backers sweated out the July heat, was expected to sign 1,000 copies of the book. Her staff began shuttling out reporters before the full number was reached.
Ridgewood, a New York City suburb of 25,352, isn’t exactly unfriendly turf for Christie. In 2009, he beat Democrat Jon Corzine by 4,192 votes to 3,885. Four years later, Christie steamrolled his way to a 22-percentage point victory over state Sen. Barbara Buono — that edge swelling to 4,259 to 2,453, according to state election results.
And Clinton has ties of her own to the Garden State:
In 2008, as she sought the Democratic presidential nomination, she beat one Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois by more than 12,000 votes to carry the state in the party’s presidential primary.