- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2015

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has ducked major GOP gatherings in Iowa and South Carolina and appears to be focusing his potential presidential campaign on New Hampshire instead, a move that analysts said could make or break his White House dreams.

Mr. Christie is not among the 10 Republican hopefuls who will be at the South Carolina Freedom Summit in Greenville on Saturday, nor was he among the nine hopefuls who attended the Iowa Faith and Freedom Summit a couple weeks ago.

Republican operatives said Mr. Christie instead has been focused on New Hampshire, whose primaries traditionally come second in the nomination calendar, between Iowa’s kickoff caucuses and South Carolina’s primary. The governor, who has yet to make a firm announcement about his campaign plans, was in New Hampshire on Thursday touring a drug treatment center and addressing the Cheshire County Lincoln Day Dinner. He is expected to visit a diner and hold a town hall meeting Friday.

Eric Fehrnstrom, a top adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, said that it makes sense for Mr. Christie to focus on New Hampshire, where he is likely a good fit for the fiscally conservative but more socially moderate voters. But Mr. Fehrnstrom warned that Mr. Christie, 52, needs to be careful about putting all his eggs in a single basket.

“In Iowa, Chris Christie has very little chance for a win, place or show, so it’s smart for his team to avoid it and focus on New Hampshire, which is kinder to Northeast Republicans,” he said. “But he needs to put a stake in the ground somewhere else. You may be able to write off one of the early states, but you can’t play in only one.”

Overall, New Hampshire has served as a solid barometer for picking Republican nominees. Since 1952, the state’s primary winner has gone on to become the party’s standard-bearer in 13 out of 16 presidential cycles.

Mr. Romney dropped out of the 2008 race not long after he lost New Hampshire to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party’s eventual nominee. In 2012, Mr. Romney won New Hampshire en route to becoming the nominee.

Some Republicans, though, think South Carolina is the real kingmaker among the early primaries, particularly for conservatives, which helps explain the large showing at this weekend’s Freedom Summit.

Speakers include: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Donald Trump.

Mr. Christie was invited to attend the event, but event organizers said they never even received an official “no” from his staff. In Iowa, meanwhile, organizers of the Faith and Freedom forum a few weeks ago said Mr. Christie was the only one not to respond to their overtures.

Cindy Costa, a Republican National Committee member from South Carolina, said it’s probably safe for Mr. Christie, who she said has done a good job governing in the arctic blue state of New Jersey, to assume he would have a tough time selling his brand of Republicanism in South Carolina.

“Maybe that is why he is not coming,” Mrs. Costa said. “Maybe he is investing his resources where he has a better chance.”

A Christie adviser, meanwhile, said the governor has made several trips to the state, including to stump for Gov. Nikki Haley ahead of her re-election to a second term last fall.

The adviser said it made sense for Mr. Christie to travel to New Hampshire because it is a quick trip and because he has built up “a reservoir of good will” there over the years in his capacity at chairman of the Republican Governors Association and loyal foot solider for Mr. Romney.

Polls show that Mr. Christie is running in the middle of the pack in New Hampshire behind Mr. Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio.

A WMUR Granite State poll released this week showed that 13 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they would not vote for Mr. Christie “under any circumstance” — ranking him second behind Donald Trump. Mr. Christie also had some of the highest unfavorables.

Still, that’s better than in Iowa, where a Quinnipiac Poll released this week showed that 20 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers said they would “definitely not support” him. South Carolina is worst of all, with a Winthrop poll of likely GOP primary voters last month finding that 53 percent said they would not consider voting for him.

Mr. Christie will follow up this week’s visit to New Hampshire with another trip next week where he will appear at the Pembroke American Legion.

“He is New Hampshire today and I think he will be in New Hampshire a great deal,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a top GOP fundraising “bundler” and Christie supporter.

She dismissed the early polls, calling them “literally meaningless.”

“I think what will be meaningful is the first debate and then the debates that go in New Hampshire,” she said. “The debates and New Hampshire are key to Chris Christie.”

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