CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — On his fourth trip to Iowa, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie promised to be back multiple times — but not necessarily as a candidate for president.
Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was traveling the state Thursday to raise funds for and campaign with Gov. Terry Branstad, who is seeking an unprecedented sixth term.
“Gov. Branstad is a role model for me and for others around the country about what public service is supposed to be all about,” Christie told reporters for local and national media outlets after a meet-and-greet with more than 200 people at MJ’s Restaurant in Marion.
However, he fielded more questions about his future than Branstad’s. His answers offered nothing definitive about his plans, specifically whether he will run for president in 2016.
It’s a deeply personal decision, he said, that probably won’t be swayed by the encouragement he received from partisans at the meet-and-greet.
“So while I appreciate the encouragement and it’s incredibly flattering and gratifying, in the end that’s a decision you make in here,” Christie said, pointing to his heart. “You don’t make that decision based on politics or anything else. You have to decide inside whether that’s something you and your family really want to do.
“When the time is appropriate, we’ll make that decision, but now is not the time,” he said.
Many of those who came out to see Christie think the time is right for the second term governor to seek higher office.
Larry Kudej of Swisher, sporting a “Team Branstad” button, said he wanted Christie to run in 2012. He likes his “straightforwardness” and ability to get things done in a deeply Democratic state.
Christie’s ability to reach across the aisle was mentioned by several people who also expressed frustration with Washington gridlock.
It was the first political event Kara Burmeister of Central City has ever attended and she “only came because he’s here.”
“I wouldn’t have stopped if it was just Branstad,” she said.
She’s intrigued with his values, but noting that it is 18 months until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses, Burmeister she’s not “locked in.”
Christie dismissed a question about whether he is conservative enough for Iowa Republicans as the kind of question that interests only reporters.
“What I think happens is that people get to know you and make a judgment on you,” Christie said. “They don’t necessarily put you in any kind of box.
“They don’t go in there and say, ‘Are you conservative enough? Are you liberal enough? Are you moderate enough?” Christie said. “They say, ‘Do I trust him. Can I count him to tell me the truth? Is there someone who can actually be a competent steward of our country’s future?’
“Those questions don’t bother me or matter to me at all,” he said.
Inside the restaurant, Deb Foster, a longtime GOP activist, speculated that many people see Christie as moderate enough.
“There are a lot of faces here I haven’t seen for quite a while,” Foster said. “People who might have felt shut out for a few years.”
Kara Molacek of Cedar Rapids fit that category.
“I’m a conservative, but realistic,” she said. She hasn’t been involved in a campaign since Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander ran in 1996.
After talking to Christie, she said he’s “someone who doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.”
Christie demonstrated he can talk the talk when he was asked about a poll showing that one-third of Iowa Republicans don’t like him.
“Only a third? That’s pretty good,” he said. “I’ll take it.”
Christie went on to say he doesn’t care about being loved.
“I care about being respected and in the end, you know, some people don’t like me. That’s their business. That’s their choice. It’s a free country,” Christie said. “I am who I am and I will be who I am and I think most people appreciate that.”
Not Pete Clancy. He didn’t come out to support Christie, but because he was “just interested.” The Cedar Rapids high school teacher called Christie polarizing and a bully, and rejected the New Jersey governor’s positions on education, teachers and students.
He was in the minority, according to Christie.
“Every time I come to Iowa I get a great sense of affection and respect from folks here,” Christie said. That’s enough to make him come back.
“I’ll be back here. I’ll be back here a lot — as much as Gov. Branstad wants me to be back here,” he said.