But despite the green shoots, there are still cautionary signs for Team Christie. Despite the governor’s improving net favorables, he still lags badly in New Hampshire polling. He only won 4 percent of the vote in the Globe’s survey, and just 11 percent when second-choice candidates were added. For a candidate depending on New Hampshire, he’ll need to see improvement soon.
Christie is also dependent of the misfortunes of other candidates, especially Rubio. As long as Rubio looks like the donors’ darling and most electable alternative to the grassroots favorites, Christie will struggle to get traction. Indeed, Christie’s recent momentum has largely come at the expense of Jeb Bush, who originally looked like the governor with the resources and strategy to go the distance. Now he looks like Christie with less charisma and a problematic last name.
The biggest red flag for Christie: the ongoing investigation over his administration’s handling of the George Washington Bridge lane closures. He has avoided the aggressive scrutiny that has burdened many of his rivals, but the issue isn’t going away and, even if Republicans dismiss it, it will continue to raise questions about his electability in a general election. Meanwhile, his record back home is filled with vulnerabilities, from the state’s lackluster economic growth to his rock-bottom approval ratings. Christie allies counter that it’s a product of New Jersey’s Democratic nature, but a central part of the governor’s message is that he was able to win reelection with an unusually large coalition. That’s far from the case now.
Still, it’s striking that Christie has a pathway to victory when his campaign looked to be on life support not long ago. His political fortunes are akin to his hometown New York Giants—a real shot at making the (political) playoffs, but needing other campaigns to collapse. To prevail in New Hampshire, he’ll need to win over support from the other executives—Bush, Kasich, and Carly Fiorina—while potentially peeling off some of Trump’s widespread support. For everything to break his way is plausible, but a risky bet.
Usually, two candidates emerge from the political rubble of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries. This year, we could see four: Trump as the candidate of GOP populists, Cruz or Carson as the evangelicals’ pick, Rubio as the early establishment favorite, and Christie as the establishment alternative eager to contrast his executive experience against first-term senators, a neurosurgeon, and a reality-show star.
“You’re going to find four or five tickets coming out of New Hampshire—and I’m confident Christie will be one of them,” said Christie backer Joel Maiola, who served as a chief of staff to former Sen. Judd Gregg. “Politics is all about timing. And his timing could not be better.”