DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential Chris Christie got a big boost in Iowa Tuesday when six major Republican donors and activists wooed by other GOP candidates declared they were sticking with the New Jersey governor despite his lag in the polls.
The announcement from the big-money, longtime supporters was a blow to other presidential candidates including Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who have been hustling to win backers in the state after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's departure from the race.
"We heard from a variety of (candidates)," said agricultural businessman Bruce Rastetter, who was careful not to criticize any of the other contenders. "It was who you can envision being president and ... able to stop the dysfunctionality in Washington."
Christie won support from six of the seven Iowa Republicans who flew to New Jersey four years ago to urge him to run in the 2012 race — the seventh does not plan to endorse. Christie said he had no regrets about not taking the group up on their suggestion to run then but acknowledged that this time around there "was a lot of shopping to do. He said he simply kept talking to these backers to keep their support.
Christie joked that he offered "flowers, candy, wine — you know, all the traditional wooing things."
Four years ago, Christie was considered a rising star who could flourish in a GOP field full of relatively little known candidates. This time around Christie has more political baggage, like the George Washington Bridge scandal — and heavy competition. The primary race is packed with nationally known elected officials like Bush, the former Florida governor; Rubio, a Florida senator, and a number of popular outsiders, including surprise front-runner Donald Trump.
Many of the other candidates have sought support from this Iowa group, considered a powerful set of establishment Republicans. Bush attended a summer party hosted by Rastetter, as well as an agriculture summit Rastetter put on earlier this year. Real estate developer Denny Elwell said six candidates sought his endorsement, but he felt most comfortable with Christie.
"Even though he's not the leader, we feel like he should be the leader," Elwell said. "I think we've got a lot of good candidates, but Christie is really our choice."
Real estate developer Gary Kirke said that he had been concerned that the bridge story may hurt Christie, but said that it has gone away. Former political aides of Christie were charged with helping plot lane closures on an approach to the world's busiest bridge as payback against a Democratic mayor who didn't support Christie's re-election campaign. Christie has long denied he knew about it, and no evidence has emerged to suggest he did.
Kirke added that the field remained fluid enough that Christie could still rise
"Nobody else has caught on fire," he said. "He's a proven successful guy."
Christie's backers think his chances are improving after strong debate performances and with Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry out of the race. Candidates are rushing to lock up Walker's former supporters, with Christie, Bush and Rubio all touting endorsements from onetime Walker fans.
This marks Christie's ninth visit to the leadoff caucus state this year. Christie, who has focused more heavily on New Hampshire, has spent less time here than many other contenders, though he put in a marathon day at the Iowa State Fair in August and has a well-regarded team in the state.
Rastetter, who hosted a town hall event with Christie Monday night, said he hoped to get Christie in front of more Iowans. And Christie pledged he would be campaigning heavily here, saying that by the February caucuses "you're going to be tired of seeing me."