WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got a warm welcome from Iowa Republicans Monday in his first campaign appearance since returning from a rocky trade trip to the United Kingdom.
Christie appeared at an event sponsored by a county GOP organization held in suburban Des Moines. Seeking to win over voters in the kickoff caucus state, Christie cited his record as a conservative governor in a Democratic state, noting his efforts to cut taxes and reduce spending.
"Even in a state like mine, one of the ten most liberal in the country, leadership matters," Christie said to the more than 50 people gathered in a hotel ballroom.
Christie, who also met privately with Republican Gov. Terry Branstad Monday, has not formally declared any plans to run for president in 2016, but recently moved closer with the formation of Leadership Matters for America, a political action committee.
The event was Christie's first campaign appearance since he returned from a shaky trip to the United Kingdom last week. The journey was designed to burnish his foreign policy credentials, but Christie largely avoided talking publicly about world affairs and drew criticism for comments he made offering support for parents who chose not to vaccinate their children.
Asked about a measles outbreak in California, Christie initially said that he had vaccinated his children, but that "parents need to have some measure of choice." His office later released a statement saying Christie believes that, "with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.
Before his speech Monday, Christie said he was not worried that his vaccine comments would hurt him with Iowa caucus-goers.
"I have no concerns at all because when people really listen to what I said they know that I favor vaccines and I favor them strongly," Christie said.
Christie has invested significant time and energy in building relationships in early-voting Iowa, saying Monday that this was his 13th trip to the state. He has campaigned for the recently re-elected Branstad, dropped in on U.S. Rep. Steve King's annual pheasant hunt fundraiser and met with key party activists.
While he is considered a more appealing candidate for the establishment GOP crowd, Christie is pursuing all caucus voters. He appeared last month at a candidate event geared to Christian conservatives.
After his speech, Christie stressed that he had not made a decision yet about entering the race, but noted: "I've no reluctance about being here. I like Iowa a lot. I've done very well here in terms of the reception I've gotten. We'll see what happens."
Catherine Bryan, 30, the secretary for the Dallas County Republicans, who sponsored the event, said she appreciated Christie's direct style. She didn't think the vaccine comment had seriously damaged Christie's chances in the state, noting: "that's not going to be an issue a year from now in the caucuses."