Iowa donors will travel to New Jersey to lure Chris Christie into Republican presidential race

Amanda Carey Contributor
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“My guess is if [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie is even thinking about getting in, after he meets with Bruce, he’ll get in,” Dave Funk, co-chair of the Polk County GOP in Iowa, told The Daily Caller.

Funk was referring to the announcement that five major Iowa donors will be making a trip to Princeton, New Jersey later this month to meet with the governor. One of them, CEO of Hawkeye Renewables Bruce Rastetter, told TheDC he was on a mission to convince Christie to run for president in 2012.

“We clearly would like to see him run for president,” said Rastetter. “We would encourage him to run. The country needs him today and he’d make a great president.”

So far, the assembled group visiting Christie is composed of retired insurance executive Cam Sutton, real estate developer Dennis Elwell, casino investor Mike Richards, casino owner Gary Kirke, and Rastetter.

It’s unusual for Iowans to go to such lengths to shape the GOP presidential field, but not unheard of. When talking to TheDC about the New Jersey meeting, many Iowans brought up a similar trip more than a decade ago to Austin, Texas. Then, the target was a different governor: George W. Bush.

Last year Christie was in Iowa for a fundraiser for now-Governor Terry Branstad. Apparently, Iowans saw something they liked in the conservative crusader. “I don’t think anybody came out of that room with an unfavorable view,” said Funk. “If anything he was a smashing hit.”

But the trip to New Jersey is another sign of what some may call dissatisfaction with the current crop of Republican candidates. The Republican primary has gotten off to a slow, sputtering start. Case in point was last week’s first Republican primary debate, where frontrunners like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels were all no-shows.

It’s that last point that Funk told TheDC has really rattled Iowa activists, who were surprised not to see more of an effort by the supposed frontrunners. Moreover, two of the major frontrunners, said Funk, probably wouldn’t do that well in Iowa. “Frankly, I don’t see Romney going anywhere in Iowa,” he said. “I don’t see Gingrich going anywhere in Iowa.”

For a state that is known for picking the Republican nominee, that can be a depressing thought for Iowa politicos and operatives.

“Iowans are trying to encourage strong voices to enter the race for president,” former gubernatorial candidate Bob vander Plaats told TheDC. “Obviously the governor has got a strong voice. I believe more and more today, Republicans believe that if they’re going to win back the White House, they’re going to need somebody who is bold.”

When asked about the Rastetter-led journey to New Jersey, vander Plaats simply said, “I really believe they’re serious about trying to convince Governor Christie that this would be the right time for him to run for president.”

The question now, though, is whether the venture is nothing more than a fool’s errand, as Christie has repeatedly said he will not challenge Obama in 2012. He has even hinted that he would support Mitch Daniels, if the Indiana governor ultimately announces his candidacy.

While some are optimistic that Christie can still be convinced to throw his hat in the race, Craig Robinson, founder of the IowaRepublican, pointed out this trip contains only donors, not legislators or activists like the group that traveled to Austin to lure Bush.

“I think he really does like Governor Christie and Bruce is definitely involved in Iowa politics, so in one sense sure,” Robinson told TheDC. “But do they have everything that it takes for a candidate to jump in and be successful? No.”

Robinson also pointed out that the original story of the meeting was leaked by Christie’s chief political advisor Mike DuHaime, which he suggests indicates that it could be a ploy to garner continued media attention.