How Tuesday Helped Chris Christie’s Presidential Ambitions

He raised millions. He campaigned in 37 states. A lot of people are going to owe him.

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In 1962, Richard Nixon lost his campaign to be California governor. In 1968, he was elected president.

In between, he spent years campaigning for just about every Republican who would consent to share a dais with him. He built up a huge account of contacts and people who owed him favors. And when the time came to run for president, he called in those favors, winning office on the back of a network of politicians who owed him one.

All of which is to say: History is smiling brightly on Chris Christie’s nascent 2016 presidential campaign this morning.

Christie, who is chair of the Republican Governors Association, leveraged that position this campaign season to do two things:

• Steer a ton of money to Republican candidates for governor around the the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, he raised $102 million to defend 22 GOP-held governorships. (And, oh yeah, this let him spend a lot of time with national GOP donors.)

• He personally campaigned — relentlessly — for Republican gubernatorial candidates across the nation. At times this fall it seemed like he was barely spending any time in New  jersey, and though he came in for some criticism for that, this accomplished two things: A) It built chits with those candidates, which should come in helpful in 2016, and B) it allowed Christie to be personally present in a number of states — he visited 37! — that will matter in the presidential election: A pre-campaign campaign, if you will.

And you may have noticed: Republicans won a lot of governorships last night.

Christie being Christie, he’s not exactly shy about his intentions in all this. Per the Wall Street Journal:

In an interview, Mr. Christie, who hasn’t announced whether he will run in 2016, said he was more concerned about helping other candidates with his RGA work. But, he added, “It’s a political venture, so I’m hoping it helps me politically.”

The governor also said the frenzied pace of his RGA work has provided an important test for his presidential ambitions: how a campaign would affect his family. The 52-year-old has four children, two of them school-age, and his wife works full time in the financial sector.

“Everything that I’m doing helps to give me more information for when I ultimately decide,” Mr. Christie said.

He was a bit more coy this morning in making the rounds of talk shows:

“It’s way off,” he told CBS. “My view on all of this is that my job this year was to elect Republican governors and re-elect Republican governors, and I didn’t spend any time on anything else – no other fundraising, no other activities. All my political activity was on this, and I think this morning we feel really good that we all stayed united together and we got the job done.”

Christie still has the same drawbacks as a potential candidate as he always has: His personality may not wear well outside the northeast. Conservatives are still leery of him. But conservatives were leery of Mitt Romney, too, once upon a time: It’s amazing how much a lot of money and the power of organization can do for you. After Tuesday’s Republican wave, Christie might be best poised to build both.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.