WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is facing new pressures in Iowa, a state where some already view him as too moderate for socially conservative caucus voters.
Many of Christie's competitors for the Republican presidential nomination appealed to Iowa caucus-goers last weekend, when freshman Sen. Joni Ernst's "roast and ride" arrived in Boone.
Christie, however, was not among them. He returned to Iowa for the first time in three months this week. It's not clear anyone had missed him.
But that doesn't seem to worry Christie.
"I've always been received extraordinarily well here," Christie said. "I suspect if I decide to go forward, you'll see me a lot more once my legislature goes out of session June 30."
During a two-day swing through the state, Christie delivered an education speech, stopped at a popular restaurant, addressed a county GOP dinner and held the first of his signature town-hall style meetings.
Blaming his absence on duties in New Jersey, Christie said he did not believe others had gained ground since he was last in Iowa in March. It was an argument that made sense to Sherill Whisenand, co-chairman of the Republican Party of Polk County, which held the dinner where Christie spoke Thursday evening.
"We could grouse about how we never see him Iowa, but the truth his he's got a job and we understand that," Whisenand said.
At that dinner, Christie drew laughter and applause from more than 100 people crowded in a hotel ballroom as he talked about his upbringing and touted his executive experience and direct style.
"You'll never have to say 'I wonder how he's thinking,'" Christie said. He told the crowd that they could expect "no surprises, no games, none of that."
Christie sounded increasingly like a candidate during his visit. On Thursday, he announced his most trusted government aide, Maria Comella, would be leaving to join his political action committee — the surest sign yet that he is ready to jump into a race that already features 11 major Republican candidates.
Christie has spent significant time in Iowa in recent years and has raised money for elected officials, including GOP Gov. Terry Branstad. Supporters think that groundwork, coupled with Christie's talent for retail politics, gives him a shot to do well in the state.
He is also building a well-respected team and has been working behind the scenes, courting people like Joni Scotter, 73, a Republican activist from Marian who is among the most courted in the state. Scotter said she is torn between Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. She said Christie called her this week to offer her well wishes because she had been sick. She said he could connect in Iowa if he put in some time.
"When people get face up, nose to nose they really like him," she said, adding, "I think he isn't as conservative as people might like, but I like him just fine."
Still, Christie appears much more focused on New Hampshire, where he's made near-weekly visits in the past few months. In addition to being closer geographically, the state is also seen as more welcoming to less socially conservative Republicans.
Colvin reported from Newark, New Jersey.
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