No matter many times he denies having his sights on the White House in 2012, presidential buzz seems to follow New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wherever he goes.
His latest foray onto the national stage comes today, when Christie will deliver a high-profile speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute titled “It’s Time to Do the Big Things” – a plea to other political leaders to confront the country’s fiscal problems head-on, much like has done in the Garden State.
The Christie appearance has stirred up so much interest that AEI cannot accommodate all the reporters who want to cover the speech in person.
His popularity among Republicans – and the media – speaks to the wide-open state of the early presidential field, which so far lacks a candidate with the kind of star power and broad appeal that some Republicans say will be necessary to go head-to-head with President Obama next year.
The rotund governor has also developed an enthusiastic national following thanks to his brash and confrontational brand of politics, on display in various YouTube videos uploaded by his staff that depict Christie clashing with unionized teachers at town-hall meetings across New Jersey.
As Christie toured the country last October with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in an effort to elect other GOP governors, Christie was met with a rock-star welcome at nearly every event.
At one such stop in Ohio, Christie lingered for nearly 30 minutes after the event to meet swarms of autograph seekers, while Barbour and Pawlenty – two Republicans actually mounting presidential bids – slipped out the back.
Christie skipped last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, but still managed to finish in a surprising tie for third in the conference’s presidential straw poll along with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who spent three days at the event getting his libertarian-leaning supporters to the ballot box.
The unexpected result was revealed just moments after conservative pundit Ann Coulter implored the CPAC crowd to draft Christie into the presidential race.
“If we don’t run Chris Christie, Mitt Romney will be the nominee and we will lose,” Coulter declared.
While the governor has rejected invitations to speak in key presidential nominating states like Iowa and recently turned down an offer to deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union, Christie and his team have had a hand in stirring up the national buzz.
He recently sat for glowing interviews with “60 Minutes” and “The Today Show, for instance, and his advisers made clear to reporters that a January dinner with Romney at the New Jersey’s governor’s mansion came at the request of the former Massachusetts governor.
Today, the Republican Governors Association announced that Christie will serve as the political organization’s Policy Vice Chairman. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the RGA Chairman, said Christie “has been a powerful example of the tremendous impact governors can make in their states and nationwide.”
And now the governor is stepping into the spotlight once again in Washington, in full view of a press corps hungry for any sign of life in the slow-moving presidential race. Not that the White House is on his mind, of course.
“I am not surprised that he is continuing to share his message of fiscal sanity and shared sacrifice,” said New Jersey Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci, one of Christie’s closest friends and supporters. “His success in New Jersey with this agenda has made him highly sought after around the country.”