WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie rallied conservative activists in Iowa late Monday, saying his success in a Democratic state shows his tough-talking, smaller government message resonates with all voters.
Fanning speculation that he's considering a 2012 presidential bid, the Republican spoke to about 700 people at a fundraiser for former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is challenging the Democratic incumbent for his old job back.
Christie said Republicans must deliver on their conservative promises if they gain power during the November elections. If they don't follow through, he said voters will send the GOP "to the wilderness, and they are going to send us there for a long, long time."
"As a party, it is put up or shut up time," he said.
Voters are willing to accept the political pain of deep cuts in government spending as long as they know the pain is being spread equally, Christie argued. It makes sense to shrink government in tough economic times, and politicians seem to be the last to get that message, he said.
"We lost our way a number of years ago, and we became tax and spend light," he said. "Less spending, smaller government, less regulation, smaller government — we're going to be all about that again. We have to step up and stand for those principles again."
He described former President Ronald Reagan as the last truly successful Republican political leader, because he stuck to those basic core principles "and that's what we need to be about today."
After his speech, Christie insisted he wasn't planning to run for president in 2012 — even though Iowa, home to the nation's first presidential caucus, is a key destination for those with big political aspirations.
"I'm governor of New Jersey, I'm not going to run for national office," Christie told reporters. "You have to want it more than anything else in the world, and I don't. ... You have to be ready for it, and I'm not."
Still, his appearance in Iowa didn't dampen speculation.
Since he defeated former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, Christie has been traveling across the U.S. with a single message: If he can sell his anti-tax, anti-government message in New Jersey, it can resonate everywhere.
On Monday, Christie argued that there's political success in carrying out conservative principles. Elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, he said his approval rating is nearing 60 percent.
"Something different is happening in New Jersey, something different is happening in America," he said. "They know we are in tough times and they're willing to sacrifice."
His stance underscores a divide in the Republican Party that could play out in the next presidential election, whether he's a contender or not.
Christie is among those who argue that Republicans can succeed when they focus on fiscal conservatism, often at the expense of focusing on key social issues, whereas former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee energize the party's religious and socially conservative base. Palin and Huckabee have been in Iowa recently, as has Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenti, who courts that same base.
Branstad, who was Iowa's governor from 1983 to 1999, Branstad defeated a more conservative rival in this year's GOP gubernatorial primary to take on Democratic Gov. Chet Culver. A poll taken late last month showed Culver trailing Branstad by 19 percentage points.
Branstad praised Christie, saying he was "a model for what a Republican leader and a Republican governor can do."
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.