IOWA CITY, Iowa — Chris Christie is relying on deep connections to long-time Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to boost his Iowa campaign. Now, he’s going to get a helping hand from Branstad himself.
While the six-term governor will not officially endorse his New Jersey counterpart, Branstad will introduce Christie at his West Des Moines rally on Sunday night. For a candidate sitting at around 2% in the polls, it’s quite an assist. Yet it tracks with how — and why — Christie’s late Iowa push came to fruition.
“Team Branstad is with Team Christie,” the New Jersey governor said at one point during a town hall Friday, one of about a dozen mentions of Branstad during the event at a Burlington baked goods shop and restaurant.
Christie has Branstad’s former chief of staff and two former campaign managers on his team in the state.
“We’re hopeful that we’re going to turn that into some really good turnout here on Monday night and a really good result,” Christie said in an interview with CNN after a town hall in Iowa City on Saturday.
Christie and his team say the expertise from the Branstad connections gives him an edge to beat expectations and perhaps lock in a bit of a boost on his way to New Hampshire — a state that’s been billed as make-or-break to Christie’s chances.
Christie has 13 events in the final weekend before the caucuses, with Branstad providing an exclamation point to his final rally Sunday night. His town halls are much the same as they are in New Hampshire, and Christie pointed out in the interview that he hasn’t tried to shift messages to appeal to a different subset of voters. That doesn’t mean it’s the same crowd, though.
“I feel a little more aggression in New Hampshire, a little more laid back in Iowa,” Christie said after his first event of the day on Saturday.
For Christie himself, the aggression in recent days has been directed at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and leading GOP candidate Donald Trump.
“A crisis for Donald is when his favorite restaurant on the Upper East Side isn’t open,” Christie said.
But he continues to save the sharpest attacks for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. It is a feud that has only grown in intensity over the past few weeks, a result at one point of Christie’s swift rise in New Hampshire and the attacks by a Rubio-supporting super PAC that followed. A good portion of Christie’s town halls are now spent attacking Rubio as unqualified, a point he drove home more pointedly in the interview.
“He has no experience in making decisions,” Christie said. “He has no experience in running anything. I’ve seen that fail in the White House right now. I don’t want to see our party fail again by taking Barack Obama with a Republican pedigree.”
Rubio’s campaign, which has attacked Christie in recent weeks for being too liberal on issues ranging from guns to Supreme Court justices to education, responded quickly.
“Odd coming from Chris Christie considering he shares a Common Core with Barack Obama,” Joe Pounder, a top Rubio aide, tweeted.
Still, in Iowa, Rubio and Christie are on completely different playing fields — Rubio on the rise, Christie attempting to buck exceedingly low expectations. In fact, Rubio doesn’t even factor in to what Christie views as success in the first two contests of the race.
“Being the first among the governors, that’s how I define success,” Christie said.
And if that doesn’t happen?
“My view has been, don’t make a decision until you absolutely have to,” Christie said. “And I won’t make that decision about what’s next, what we do in South Carolina, what we do in Nevada, what we do on March 1 until after we see the results here.”