Christie Won’t Help Cory Booker’s GOP Opponent in Senate Campaign

New Jersey governor’s allies say he will offer an endorsement, but no campaign appearances or fundraising help.

National Journal
Kevin Brennan
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Kevin Brennan
Aug. 13, 2013, 4:55 p.m.

New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie finds him­self in an awk­ward situ­ation as he mulls wheth­er to of­fer any sup­port to his party’s tea-party Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate nom­in­ee, Steve Loneg­an, against his Demo­crat­ic friend and off-and-on polit­ic­al ally, Cory Book­er.

Loneg­an, who cruised to vic­tory in Tues­day’s Re­pub­lic­an primary, has a frosty re­la­tion­ship with Christie, dat­ing back to his primary chal­lenge to the gov­ernor in the 2009 cam­paign. Just this week, Loneg­an earned a pub­lic scold­ing from Christie for his cam­paign’s ra­cially tinged tweet at­tack­ing Book­er. “This is a gov­ernor who calls it like he sees it,” said a source close to Christie. “When Steve Loneg­an says something and re­port­ers want the gov­ernor’s re­ac­tion, he’ll tell people what he thinks.”

But if Christie fails to sup­port his fel­low Re­pub­lic­an in the Sen­ate race, he could take blow­back from con­ser­vat­ives, already an­noyed by his re­la­tion­ship with Pres­id­ent Obama on hur­ricane re­cov­ery and his lack of in­terest in help­ing the party con­test the va­cant Sen­ate seat.

Christie al­lies ex­pect the gov­ernor to of­fer Loneg­an a form­al en­dorse­ment, but don’t ex­pect the gov­ernor to lift a fin­ger to cam­paign or raise money for his party’s nom­in­ee or lend him sup­port in his long-shot cam­paign against Book­er in the Oc­to­ber spe­cial elec­tion. “It doesn’t seem like that’s something he would in­vest in,” said one mem­ber of Christie’s in­ner circle. “Re­sources are lim­ited.”

For their part, Loneg­an’s team doesn’t seem to ex­pect much from the state’s most pop­u­lar Re­pub­lic­an in dec­ades. “They’re run­ning their race and they have their is­sues. We’re run­ning our race and we have our is­sues, and they’re just totally dif­fer­ent,” Loneg­an aide Rick Shaf­tan said. “Steve has to make the case for his own cam­paign.”

Christie could have oth­er reas­ons for keep­ing his dis­tance. There’s no love lost between the two Re­pub­lic­ans: Dur­ing their 2009 primary fight, Loneg­an ac­cused Christie of “vap­id double-talk” and vowed to “blow Chris Christie off the stage” in de­bates. While Loneg­an sup­por­ted Christie’s gen­er­al-elec­tion cam­paign against Demo­crat­ic Gov. Jon Corz­ine later that year, he has nev­er em­braced Christie in the way that most Garden State Re­pub­lic­ans have.

Christie’s camp doesn’t want to al­low Loneg­an — or any­thing else — to com­plic­ate his goal of notch­ing an his­tor­ic reelec­tion win in Novem­ber. Christie leads state Sen. Bar­bara Buono, his strug­gling Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent, by more than 25 points in the latest pub­lic polls. While both sides ex­pect the race to tight­en as Elec­tion Day draws closer, a re­sound­ing vic­tory could bol­ster what prom­ises to be his main selling point to Re­pub­lic­ans in 2016: the abil­ity to ex­pand the pres­id­en­tial map in­to tra­di­tion­ally Demo­crat­ic states.

“At the end of the day, Chris Christie is most con­cerned with his own mar­gin of er­ror,” Mon­mouth Uni­versity Polling In­sti­tute Dir­ect­or Patrick Mur­ray said. “His primary strategy is to keep push­ing this im­age of the only guy who can win a blue state and there­fore can win the White House.”

But that de­sire for a land­slide reelec­tion isn’t the only way the Sen­ate race factors in­to the 2016 cal­cu­lus for Christie. He already angered some in the party with his de­cision to sched­ule the spe­cial elec­tion in Oc­to­ber, and his re­cent dus­tup with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., un­der­scored that Christie faces chal­lenges win­ning over the party’s act­iv­ist base. If Christie jumps in­to the pres­id­en­tial race, con­ser­vat­ive primary op­pon­ents may con­trast his lim­ited role in Loneg­an’s Sen­ate bid to his re­la­tion­ship with Book­er, one of the most high-pro­file Demo­crats in the coun­try. Christie’s al­lies ar­gue that an en­dorse­ment of Loneg­an will for­ti­fy him from such cri­ti­cism, and they point to his abil­ity to get along with Book­er as rare evid­ence of ci­vil­ity in today’s par­tis­an polit­ic­al world.

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