Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey will be the keynote speaker at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, not the nominee, a political science professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. has concluded.
Christie has been the subject of intense speculation on the part of high profile political commentators that he may yet enter the race before the end of the year. Tucker Carlson, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller, for instance, said during an address in New Orleans last week that he expected Christie to declare his candidacy by October and that the N.J. governor would most likely win the Republican nomination.
Carlson was one of the main speakers featured as part of the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALECs) annual meeting. Although Christie has repeatedly denied any presidential intentions, he will find it difficult to resist "the pull of history," Carlson said.
But Ben Dworkin, who serves as the director for the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, said in an interview that he does not expect Christie to be a presidential candidate in 2012. Instead, Christie will remain a visible and forceful figure within the Republican Party and keep his options open for 2016.
"Every decision he makes has the added element of signaling to a national audience," Dwokin observed. Christie is a very smart politician and he is trying to burnish his credentials. But I don't think his ambitions are for 2012. I see him as the keynote speaker at the [Republican] convention, and this is something he will be good at."
Dworkin outlined three main scenarios for Gov. Christie.
- Christie does run in 2012 as Carlson and others have suggested.
- Christie looks ahead to 2016 and runs for re-election as governor of N.J.
- Christie does not run for re-election as governor and instead tours the country with a record of accomplishment giving speeches and raising his profile.
"Christie is not a slam dunk for re-election as governor," Dworkin observed. "There is a key group of swing voters that decide late and Christie could have trouble with this group, they are suburban women."
Moreover, Democrats continue to enjoy a substantial registration advantage, Dworkin noted. The latest figures show there are about 800,000 more N.J. residents registered as Democrats than as Republicans. While Christie has received Democratic support for some his most important initiatives, such as reforming the pension system, he does have make very careful political calculations on certain issues, Dworkin said.
This is most certainly the case on environmental policy.
In May, Christie announced that he was withdrawing his state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which included cap and trade provisions. But, at the same time, the governor also embraced several green initiatives and said that "no new coal would be permitted in New Jersey." Christie also said he was willing to "defer to experts" who believe human activity is responsible for global warming. But just a few months earlier during a town hall meeting in Toms River, Christie had expressed skepticism toward the idea of man-made global warming.
"Gov. Christie's views on the environment must be viewed within a broad context," Dworkin said. "He must navigate his way between the strong, pro-environmental views of his state and with a national Republican Party that is much more conservative than the average New Jersey voter is on the environment."
N.J. environmental groups are very well-funded and wield significant influence on both parties. Three of the state's Republican congressman voted in favor of the "Waxman-Markey" cap and trade bill that passed the House in 2009 and Christie himself was endorsed by the NJ Environmental Federation.
But Dworkin is not convinced that Christie has suddenly gone green.
"Just because he has been all over the map [on environmental issues], doesn't mean he is actually looking for a place in the middle," he said. "Christie came in for severe criticism after the talk in Toms River and realized he needed to pull back a bit."
Christie is an ideal pick for the keynote and will deliver a strong address that appeals to the Republican base and helps to position the NJ governor for a future run, Dworkin said.
Up until now, I've held that view that Christie needs to finish what he started in my home state as a lot of heavy lifting still needs to be done. But after listening to T. Carlson in New Orleans I'm beginning to warm to the idea that the country can't wait until 2016 to get started on restoring its financial standing. It's also worth noting that there could be more openings on the U.S. Supreme Court. I don't know too much about Gov. Rick Perry of Texas who sounds like he's running. I do know that if he doesn't catch on there is an opening for someone else.