From Perry Bacon Jr. at POST POLITICS at The Washington Post:
New Jersey governor and almost-2012-candidate Chris Christie made headlines with his decision to endorse former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on Tuesday, on the eve of a presidential debate. Here’s a look at the potential impact of his endorsement.
Why it won’t matter:
Polls suggest, despite the clamor in Washington and New York about Christie, that he’s not that well known or extremely popular among Republican voters. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last week suggested a majority of Republicans either didn’t have an opinion or didn’t want the New Jersey governor to run for president.
So it’s not clear how many voters will be persuaded by his endorsement.
Many Christie backers had already decided to endorse Romney once the New Jersey governor opted against running.
Why Christie’s endorsement will matter:
1. Christie’s sharp comments while endorsing Romney are likely to be remembered. His pointed criticism of Perry for embracing pastor Robert Jeffress, who made controversial comments about Mormonism, won’t help the Texas governor, who is eager to move on from that issue. And Christie tried to distance Romney from the health-care law the latter signed in Massachusetts from the federal one that conservatives hate.
2. Christie’s endorsement could push others toward Romney who would have more sway in the primary process. The endorsements of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad or South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley would help Romney in those early states, and those governors no doubt are aware of Christie’s decision.
3. Individual endorsements may have limited impact. But a group of political scientists has found that the number of endorsements by party leaders is often a strong indicator of who will win a presidential primary.
It’s a classic chicken-versus-egg question: Do voters follow the preferences of party leaders or are party leaders anticipating the voters when deciding whom they endorse?
On a night when Texas Gov. Rick Perry had the most to lose, Governor Perry might have lost the most.
The Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire Tuesday night was, if nothing else, an opportunity for the Texas governor. Losing support in the polls and replaced by Herman Cain as primary challenger to perpetual front-runner-by-default Mitt Romney, Perry had a chance to change the momentum.
In the end, however, he looked like the candidate most likely to have left the iron on at home. By the end, pundits across the cable-TV landscape were wondering whether Perry had the fire to run for president, so muted and disengaged was his performance.
It was the most notable development of a night lacking in notable developments.
Meanwhile, the debate, which was confined to economic issues, played to Cain’s strengths as a former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. The event could have been titled: The Republican Presidential Debate – An Evening with Candidate Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan.
He defended his proposal to establish 9 percent rates for sales, payroll, and business taxes (repeatedly), and his opponents questioned it (repeatedly).
By the old maxim that no attention is bad attention, it was a night of free advertising for Cain. It also somewhat disguised the fact that Cain appeared to have little else to say.
Meanwhile, the other candidates settled into roles that are becoming about as familiar as a comfortable pair of carpet slippers.
Rep. Ron Paul was once again the group’s grenade-thrower, but switching his target from Perry to Cain. He mocked Cain’s choice of a “good Federal Reserve chief” (Alan Greenspan) and accused Cain of calling Fed critics “ignorant.”
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich persisted as Greek chorus, seemingly trying to interpret other candidates’ answers for viewers and promoting peace among the participants by reminding them of the darker cloud – President Obama.
Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Sen. Rick Santorum played to the persona as earnest but seemingly unelectable, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman kept alive his streak of making jokes that the audience didn’t get – this time an inside joke with Romney about their Mormon faith.
But it was Perry, who needed to recast his fading image as perhaps out of his depth in debates, who was served least by the status quo. In a debate about the economy, he refused to unveil his entire economic plan, instead only returning to a single note: expanding energy exploration in the US.
For a Texas governor, it was hardly a policy stretch.