New Jersey Governor Chris Christie put his popularity among fiscal conservatives to work on behalf of Mitt Romney yesterday, telling Iowa voters that the former Massachusetts governor is the only Republican in the party’s presidential primaries who can beat President Barack Obama.
Appearing at an evening rally in West Des Moines, Christie urged voters to put aside differences they might have with Romney and help him secure a victory in the Jan. 3 caucuses that start the nominating process.
“If you’re looking for a candidate who agrees with you on everything, buy a mirror,” Christie told a crowd of about 150 at the headquarters of the Kum & Go convenience store chain. “I’m out here to tell you that I’m supporting him because I believe he’s the best qualified person to be president, and I believe he’s the only Republican who can win.”
Christie drew implicit distinctions on the issue of character between Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who is surging in the polls and emerging as a major threat.
Christie told a voter who said she was still undecided in the race to ask herself, “Is this the kind of person who is always going to make me proud in the Oval Office?” and “that I’ll never have to worry will do something that just will make me ashamed.”
Romney “just won’t, and maybe we should expect at least that of our leaders, but we’ve learned over time we don’t always get it,” he said. While Christie didn’t name Gingrich, his comments suggested he was referring to the ethics charges that led to the former speaker’s official reprimand by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1997.
Romney’s campaign today deployed two of his top advisers, former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu and former Missouri Senator Jim Talent, to lead a press conference call to delve into Gingrich’s record.
Sununu and Talent described Gingrich as an erratic, self- serving politician whose efforts at self-promotion frequently undermine his party’s agenda.
“He’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader because he’s not a reliable or trustworthy leader,” said Talent, who worked with Gingrich as a congressman in the 1990s.
“He’s more concerned about Newt Gingrich than he is about conservative principles,” added Sununu.
Talent and Sununu pointed to comments Gingrich made last spring attacking Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal to overhaul Medicare, a plan backed by almost all House Republicans and seen as a cornerstone of the party’s agenda.
“To undercut Paul Ryan is the most self-serving anti- conservative thing one can imagine happening,” said Sununu. “He gave the liberals and the Democrats the ammunition they needed.”
They warned that, if Gingrich won their party’s nomination, the election would be about him -- rather than the economy or the policies of the Obama administration.
“My concern is that, if he’s the nominee, and I say this as a Republican, this election is going to be about him,” said Talent, “and that’s exactly what the Democrats want.”
Christie, who flirted with a presidential run as he faced entreaties from some Republican activists and donors loathe to support Romney, decided Oct. 4 not to enter the race and threw his backing to Romney a week later.
The New Jersey governor, who has gained a following among fiscal conservatives for slashing his state’s budget and battling with organized labor, didn’t rule out becoming Romney’s vice presidential running mate if he is asked.
“I won’t say ‘absolutely not,’ because in the end, I think it’s impolite,” Christie told a voter who asked about such a ticket. “I wouldn’t bet on Romney-Christie.”
Questioned about whether Romney made a good move by rejecting real estate developer Donald Trump’s invitation to a Dec. 27 presidential debate, Christie said the candidate had to decide for himself how best to spend his limited time with voting slated to start in less than a month.
“He needs to be in Iowa a lot and he needs to be in New Hampshire a lot for the next 30 days,” Christie said.
More than a dozen protesters calling themselves Occupy Iowa Caucus interrupted Christie’s remarks, yelling slogans about income inequality including “Make Wall Street pay” and “Put people first.”
After they were escorted out by Romney campaign staffers, Christie told the crowd that the hecklers’ “anger is rooted in the fact that they believed in this hope and change garbage that they were sold by this president three years ago.”
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