DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is returning to Iowa yet again to campaign for a governor who doesn't need his help, one in a string of meetings with Republican candidates who would be valuable allies should he run for president.
As he reaches the homestretch before the midterm elections in his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie's dance card is full: He's packed his schedule with stops for a long list of competitive candidates along with some who don't need his help but could prove helpful in the lead-up to 2016.
Christie is set to attend a get-out-the-vote rally Thursday for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a state institution who has a double-digit lead over his Democratic rival in recent polls. It will be Christie's fourth visit Iowa in recent months — his second of the week — and will give him yet another chance to mingle with the activists and fundraisers in the state that's the first to vote in caucus and primary season.
"I know some people may have some other ulterior motives in addition to helping me," Branstad said in an interview, "but I do appreciate everything they've done. And Gov. Christie, in particular, as chairman of the Republican governors, has done a great amount for not only me but for Republican governors and governor candidates around the country."
Christie's travel schedule in the last week of the midterm elections offers clues to whom — and in which key electoral states — his friends might be should he come looking for some as a presidential candidate in 2016. It runs through some key states in any presidential election, such as Florida and Colorado.
But Christie kicked off his final 10-day push last Saturday with stops that seemed to have little to do with the stakes in Tuesday's midterms. He began the day in Nebraska, attending a tailgate fundraiser and college football game with GOP gubernatorial nominee Pete Ricketts, the son of a billionaire who, like Branstad, is running far ahead of his rival.
Then Christie returned to Iowa to visit an old friend, Rep. Steve King, who also holds a double-digit lead, before headlining Branstad's birthday bash. Christie and King, who is among the most conservative members of the house, struck up an unlikely friendship years ago and King's backing could help convince reticent conservatives that Christie is worth considering, despite his Northeastern roots.
Before returning to Iowa on Thursday, Christie will campaign in New Mexico with Gov. Susana Martinez, who has a considerable lead in the polls and is considered a potential Republican vice presidential candidate. Christie is slated to spend Sunday at a church service and then a rally with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who's far ahead of her challenger in polls.
Christie acknowledged Saturday that his travel, which is largely funded by RGA donors, isn't always based on which contests are the closest.
"You have to understand, I make these decisions based upon the races, but I also make these decisions based upon friendship," he said. Branstad, he explained, had "been a very good friend to me over the last five years and I continue to count that friendship and support, and so if he asks and it's reasonable and I can make it, I'm going to come."
The RGA notes that the stops for candidates apparently not in danger of losing represent just a fraction of time for Christie, who plans to visit a dizzying 25 states in the last 30 days of the race.
Besides Christie's time, the RGA also is putting money into races that seem to need no help. For example, it's spent $1.9 million in Iowa, $3 million in Ohio, $2 million in South Carolina and $750,000 in New Mexico. The group's Democratic counterpart has spent nothing on TV buys in Iowa, Ohio and New Mexico and just $140,000 in South Carolina.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, in a tight re-election race, has complained that the RGA hasn't provided more help. With the RGA spending $8 million so far, Christie has dismissed that criticism.
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.
Contact Jill Colvin on Twitter at @colvinj