- Associated Press - Sunday, July 24, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he’s not running for president, but he’s still leaving an imprint on the 2012 Republican campaign as a potential kingmaker and distraction.

His visit to Iowa on Monday is evidence of both.

Mr. Christie is swooping in to speak at an education conference in Des Moines and headline a political fundraiser for a congressman.

Although Mr. Christie has batted down the possibility of a 2012 run at every turn, some of the GOP presidential contenders have sought his advice and support.

“If he feels compelled that he can make a difference, he may endorse a candidate,” said Mr. Christie’s senior political adviser, Mike DuHaime.

Mr. Christie is inviting national attention at a time when GOP voters have been slow to embrace the field of announced candidates. His visit comes on the same day when two hopefuls, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, are scheduled to campaign in the leadoff caucus state ahead of an August straw poll.

“Any time Christie comes out here, he’s obviously going to take some air out of the room,” said Doug Gross, an influential Iowa Republican who has not committed to a candidate in the 2012 campaign. “He again creates this sense that the current field isn’t complete or isn’t sufficient.”

The attention on Mr. Christie may ebb if Texas Gov. Rick Perry enters the race next month.

But efforts to court Mr. Christie have continued this summer even though he has said that his four school-age children and further goals in his first term make a White House bid out of the question.

This past week, Mr. Christie met with Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone, among the influential economic conservatives who want Mr. Christie to run.

In May, a meeting with Mr. Christie in Princeton, N.J., that was arranged by a group of Iowa GOP business leaders and donors made headlines as a sign of discontent with the GOP field. Iowa activists are accustomed to being courted in their own state.

The group’s leader, energy company executive Bruce Rastetter, had been impressed by Mr. Christie last fall when the New Jersey governor headlined a fundraiser for Terry Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign. Mr. Rastetter was Mr. Branstad’s top fundraiser in 2010.

Mr. Christie agreed during the May meeting to attend the education conference organized by Mr. Branstad and to stop in at the fundraiser in West Des Moines for U.S. Rep. Steve King.

It makes sense for Mr. Christie to stay in the good graces of Iowa Republicans, should he keep the door open for running for president in 2016, as he has.

The King event is in part out of gratitude for the congressman’s support for Mr. Christie at a congressional hearing two years ago, King adviser Chuck Laudner said.

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