CHARLESTON. S.C. — Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign headed to Iowa at 7:30 Friday morning. There’s no time to rest after a rowdy night marked by clashes with Sen. [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore]: The campaign is betting on the long slog through a winnowing field, rather than pulling in front of the Florida senator he sparred with in either of the first two nomination contests.
With Christie ads going on the air in Iowa as he lands, their first target isn’t Rubio, but his former mentor, Gov. Jeb Bush, who the Garden State governor largely avoided skirmishes with on the stage in Charleston, S.C.
“You have somebody who was double-digits and thought he was gonna run away with it,” Christie senior strategist Mike DuHaime told The Daily Caller, “and now Christie’s ahead of him in many polls in Iowa, ahead in many polls in New Hampshire, higher nationally.”
“If you started this race where Jeb started and where he is now,” he explained, “compared to where Christie started and where he is now…”
“Obviously, Marco’s got some higher poll numbers in Iowa than Jeb does,” campaign manager Ken McKay said in a separate post-debate interview. “I think certainly people expect Marco to do much better in Iowa than Jeb will. We’re not that close to Marco there, but we’re obviously putting some time in. We’ve got some television ads that start tomorrow in Iowa, the governor’s going tomorrow for four days. He’s going to back, obviously, again before the caucuses, so we feel like there’s a chance to do well there. I’ll let other people decide how that stacks up.”
Bush, Rubio, Christie and Gov. John Kasich are seen as competing for some of the same voters, whereas Sen. [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] and Dr. Ben Carson’s voters will be a harder fight. Currently, Rubio is only 2 points ahead of Kasich and 3.7 points ahead of Christie in New Hampshire, where Kasich and Christie have hitherto been focused, but the Florida senator is polling in Iowa and nationally above the other three campaigns combined. The Iowa caucuses are on Feb. 1, and the New Hampshire primaries are on Feb. 9.
“They [Bush and Kasich] probably feel that Christie’s stealing their voters,” DuHaime told a reporter in the “spin room” when asked about the competition. These Were The Top Fights From The Charleston GOP Debate
In New Hampshire, Rubio is polling in second place at 13.2, Kasich at 11.2, Christie at 9.5 and Bush at 8.7. Trump leads the field at 30.2 percent.
“I don’t think it’s between us and Rubio. There’s a big pile-up right now,” McKay told TheDC. “I don’t feel like there’s a need to beat Rubio in New Hampshire or Iowa, for that matter. I think, for whatever reason, he feels like he needs to beat Christie. He’s launching attacks, their super PAC attacks, they obviously feel like they need to beat Christie.”
Before tackling poll-leaders Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, Rubio plans to corral Bush, Kasich and Christie’s donors and supporters by dominating those candidates in the first two contests.
“I think what Marco’s afraid of is when that stage gets smaller — [when] there’s three or four people on that stage — he does poorly, especially against someone like Christie,” McKay predicted to TheDC. “I just feel like they feel that need; I feel like in the long run, that will bear our. So we have a much longer-term look at this.”
Christie is “tireless,” McKay added. “And it’s sheer will that’s driving this campaign on behalf of the candidate.”
Nationally, Christie is polling in sixth place, with 3.5 percent.
Friday morning, Bush is headed to New Hampshire for two days, and Rubio is headed to New Hampshire Friday and Iowa on Saturday.
“He flew to New Hampshire right after the debate tonight,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant emailed TheDC at 1:32 a.m Friday morning.
Iowa and New Hampshire have kicked off the modern Republican nomination for seven previous contests over the last 40 years. In that time, no candidate has won the nomination without winning one of these two contests. But as Rubio strategists are quick to point out, seven contests is a very small sample-size, and this primary contest has not exactly followed historical trends.