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Associated Press
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talks with resident Amanda Wheeler in Bradley Beach, N.J., on Friday.

Christie seeks blowout lead

Presidential bid in ’16 could hinge on governor race

– New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, strolling the Wildwood boardwalk for 90 minutes, belonged to anyone who wanted to gab about Hurricane Sandy rebuilding or razz him about his beloved New York Mets baseball team.

“How you doing?” said Christie, pausing every few steps Tuesday to smile for mobile-phone photos. Vacationers greeted him as “governor.” He insisted: “Chris.”

Ten weeks before an election in which he has a 20 percentage-point lead over Democratic state Senator Barbara Buono, Christie is seeking to run up the margin and use a blowout victory to advance his position in a crowded field of prospective 2016 Republican presidential candidates.

It’s a strategy that’s been employed before; President George W. Bush’s 1998 re-election in Texas with a landslide 69 percent of the vote sent some of his potential Republican primary challengers to the sidelines.

Yet Christie, 50, faces an added hurdle: he must take a win in a blue state – New Jersey voters backed Democrats in the last six presidential contests – and convert that into momentum in a Republican primary. That’s a partisan pivot that has tripped up presidential hopefuls in the past.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who ran in the 2008 Republican primary, had a 14-point lead over his challengers in an October 2007 Gallup poll. That advantage vanished when Republican primary voters who disagreed with his stances on abortion rights and other issues began casting votes in January 2008. Giuliani, after losing in three early primaries, ended his candidacy Jan. 30, 2008.

A home-state partisan disconnect can also haunt a candidate who wins the party’s nomination. Republican Mitt Romney, who captured his colleagues’ backing only to lose the general election, was defeated by President Barack Obama in heavily Democratic Massachusetts – and New Hampshire and California, also states where he has residences.

In the 2000 presidential, the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t have been able to declare Bush the victor if Democratic nominee Al Gore had won his Republican-trending home state of Tennessee.

Those unsuccessful candidacies would provide clues for Christie about charting his course after the re-election race.

“That fact that Governor Christie is pro-life and Mayor Giuliani is pro-choice is indicative of some differences on the Republican side that would be a factor in the nomination,” said Edward Cox, chairman of the New York State Republican Party. Christie, as governor, also has put “in place Republican policies that have promoted” the state’s economy, he said.