The Republican Party needs a new top candidate for president, and a newly stirring Gov. Chris Christie would fill that void, University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato reveals to Newsmax in an exclusive interview.
And beyond filling a void, Sabato says New Jersey’s Republican governor can win the GOP nomination and conceivably go on to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.
Sabato explains that he thinks the Republican Party is "disappointed with Perry and Romney," and the party "has an appetite for a new candidate." In describing the Christie's ability to go up against the top-tier candidates, Sabato adds, "Christie is in a league with those two."
On Friday, Newsmax broke the story that Christie is indicating that he might be inclined to run — despite the protestations of some aides.
Editor's Note: See "Christie Reconsidering '12 Run, Will Decide Within Days"
Several leading Republican donors and fundraisers have been urging the popular governor to reconsider his decision not to run and to enter the GOP primary, Newsmax reported.
These Christie supporters note that significant GOP support has remained on the sidelines of the primary fight. Many leading fundraisers have yet to commit to any current primary contender, including front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.
Newsmax also learned that the effort to draft Christie culminated in a hush-hush powwow held in the past week with Christie and several notable Republican billionaires.
A source familiar with the meeting suggested that Christie seemed inclined to enter the race but said he needed more time.
Christie’s dramatic about-face from strict denials of any intent to throw his hat in the presidential ring should come as welcome news to many rank-and-file Republicans, he says. Indeed, Sabato believes that Republicans are not universally pleased with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as a whole "and are disappointed with how Texas Gov. Rick Perry has performed in the debates."
For his part, Perry has been taken to task over healthcare and immigration issues and is viewed by political insiders as having been consistently on the defensive during the debates.
Just weeks ago, Sabato opined there was no chance that Christie would run — because he had not formed an exploratory committee. Sabato now says, "Christie would have a lot of questions to answer if he joins the race — because he has been heard and seen on tape saying he would not run. Christie would have to explain what has changed his mind."
"He has been clear that for him it is family first," Sabato says. "He has shown no prior interest, but what makes him an "attractive candidate" is that "he is a Republican governor in a predominantly Democratic state."
Sabato points out that, given New Jersey's Democratic Party dominance, "Christie knows he faces an uphill battle when he goes for reelection in 2013."
"Christie may be feeling that this may be his best chance to run for president," Sabato says.
Best chance or not, Newsmax asks the pivotal question: If Christie runs, can he win the GOP nod?
“There's no question that Christie could potentially win the nomination,” Sabato says. “It wouldn't be easy, getting in this late and starting from scratch. Rick Perry has just learned that. Romney is well prepared, and even Perry has a couple month start on Christie. But my suspicion is that the money would flow in for Christie. There are many GOP financiers who have held back up until now, being dissatisfied with the entire field. Many have been hoping Christie would decide to enter.”
Once nominated, can Christie take the White House from Obama?
“If the economy is anywhere near as bad as it is now, come November 2012, a respectable GOP nominee would have at minimum a 50-50 chance to defeat President Obama, Sabato opines.
“Christie would be among those considered respectable by any fair definition of the term. He wouldn't even have to win New Jersey to capture the White House. New Jersey isn't on the target list for any Republican nominee.”
Sabato, whose website features a "crystal-ball" look at all the races at the federal and local levels, concludes emphatically, “The Romney and Perry camps would have to be concerned if Christie gets into the picture."
When asked who would look best in terms of a Christie running mate, Sabato says you might want to imagine a Florida influence. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who already has surfaced as a potential vice-presidential candidate despite his insistence that he's not interested, could be the go-to guy for many, Sabato says.
"I keep hearing Rubio's name being raised down the road" as getting into the GOP ticket picture," he says, adding, "It is way too early, and as far as Christie running, I'll believe it when I see it."
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