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A.B. Stoddard: Christie still a contender

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Vice president Biden will not run for president if Hillary Clinton does. That’s a pretty safe sentence to type. California Gov. Jerry Brown has now taken a pass on the race; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said she won’t run; and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also will bow out if Clinton gets in — which means, barring the unforeseen, she has the Democratic nomination in 2016 if she wants it.

It might be nearly three years until the next presidential election, but the outlook for Republicans hoping to win the White House is far more challenging if Clinton gets a free ride. Her financial advantage, should she coast to the general election without spending in the primary season, could be devastating. Clinton is undoubtedly a serious threat to any or all potential GOP candidates, with all polls showing she is the runaway favorite to win the presidency — except, of course, when those polls include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

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Even a week after his bridge scandal exploded, with revelations his aides had planned a traffic snarl in an act of political retribution, Christie still retains strong majority support in the Garden State. Respondents in both parties said Christie’s presidential prospects had been damaged by the scandal, but he is still seen more as a leader than a bully, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll.

Serious questions have arisen about Christie’s leadership in New Jersey, even if he didn’t know anything about close associates taking revenge on the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse him in his reelection bid in the fall. Whether recovery funds for Hurricane Sandy were appropriately spent on a pre-election advertisement featuring Christie and his family, and whether there was any legitimate reason some political foes were denied recovery money are critical questions that need answers. All of the allegations speak to whether Christie is fit to hold the highest office in the land. But if Christie survives the scandal and all of the surrounding accusations, he is likely to be better for it, should he seek his party’s nomination in 2016.

The Republican Party, which is deeply divided, wouldn’t nominate someone like Christie today, but the establishment has decided the nominating process for 30 years, and much can shift if, early on, Clinton is the candidate to beat. Christie’s strengths are not found in the rest of the prospective GOP field, including other governors. The only other contender Republicans see as a suitable match in star power against Clinton is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Republicans won’t only need a big fundraiser on the ticket but a tough political fighter. Last time Clinton was “in it to win it,” she didn’t. This time she won’t be playing nice.

In a new book, The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Politico’s Jonathan Allen report a Clinton hit list, in which enemies are punished and allies rewarded. The book, HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton, reports “there was a special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post, or written a recommendation to ice their kid’s application to an elite school.”

Christie might be damaged, and should anything prove he knew at any point about the now famous jam, he could be ruined. But he still might be the best Republicans have against Clinton and the formidable and fearsome machine her husband has built, which no Democrat or Republican at present could match.
He might be a political bully, but if Christie is viable as a GOP nominee, the Clintons might finally have met their match.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.