Hours before grange halls and school gyms in Iowa even open for tonight’s caucus, candidate Chris Christie’s in full town hall mode in New Hampshire. He’s clumped with establishment candidates — all governors — at the low end of the polls. Joining NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams and Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron is the Director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling David Redlawsk. He co-wrote the book “Why Iowa? How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process” on its arcane caucus and joins them from Iowa.
Williams: How do they improve the process?
Redlawsk: They absolutely improve it, no question about it. The caucuses make candidates better, to be honest, and it makes them stronger candidates in general. They learn how to talk to people, they learn how to answer questions, they learn how to build a campaign. Those that fail to learn it fail and don’t go on.
Aron: Is crossover voting allowed in the caucuses? Can a Democrat go to one of the Republican caucus places and cast a vote?
Redlawsk: The way it works is you have to show up at 7 o’clock. You have to be in your precinct, but you can go to either party because you can register for that party at the door. So whether you’re already a Democrat or an Independent or a Republican you can go to either party. Even if you’re not registered you can go register tonight.
Williams: Over the weekend Iowa Governor Terry Branstad introduced Gov. Christie this way:
“I want you to know that Chris Christie is a great friend of mine. I was watching in 2009 when he was elected governor and, you know, he beat an incumbent in a very difficult state and I guess that was one of the things that kind of inspired me to come back and run for governor again in 2010. … Then he became chair of the Republican Governors Association, and when he became chair of the Republican Governors Association I met with him and I said Gov. Christie help us early and you won’t have to worry about us late and he did.”
Williams: It’s hardly an endorsement, but friendly. Can it give him a boost anyway?
Redlawsk: It’s a little late. I think that Gov. Christie would have liked it from Branstad a lot earlier, but Branstad had decided to officially stay neutral. He’s more or less along with U.S. Sen. Grassley on an anyone-but-Cruz kick right now. But in the case of Gov. Christie, he did definitely pile up some good feelings by all the work he did on behalf of the Republican Governors.
Aron: What kind of impact has Chris Christie had on Iowa? Significant, minimal?
Redlawsk: It’s funny, it’s been a very minimal impact. He’s down at the bottom of the polls and it’s in some ways, in my sense, his fault in that they made a decision clearly on the campaign to focus much more on New Hampshire than Iowa. And one of the reasons is that Iowa Republicans are thought to be very, very conservative. Not necessarily Christie’s people in some sense, yet half of Iowa Republicans are not Evangelical Christians. They are looking for a candidate and when Christie’s come to the state, like this morning when he did a town hall, he’s very, very good. Today I heard people walking out and going, “he is really good” as if they’re surprised because they hadn’t heard much from him yet.
Williams: I’m going to ask you to handicap this — right now Gov. Christie is down at the sort of bottom of the polls with actual governors. If he doesn’t win, place or show for second or third, does he have a shot at the nomination?
Redlawsk: Historically we say there are three tickets out of Iowa: first place, second place and maybe third, but more importantly, beating expectations. In some sense it’s unlikely that Gov. Christie will end up third if the polling is at all accurate, but if he did better than expected, let’s say much better than expected, he might very well get a little bit of a bump anyway. But this is an odd year and the Donald Trump effect can negate everything when it comes to bumps for other candidates as long as the media continues to be all Trump all the time.
Aron: Speaking of Trump, what’s hurt Christie more: Trump or Bridgegate, which came up at a town hall on Saturday night?
Redlawsk: I think it’s both. Trump has taken a lot of oxygen out of the room for everybody, but the Bridgegate thing did not go away in Iowa. If people know something about the governor, they do know something about a bridge, and it does come up. While he’s done his best to put it to rest, I think it remains in the back of the minds in at least some Iowa voters.