Making his first trip to Iowa in more than 940 days, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared, "I don't care about being loved. I care about being respected."
Christie was asked about findings in the NBC News/Marist poll that 33-percent of Iowa Republicans surveyed hold a negative view of the two term, blue state governor. Christie reacted, "Only a third? That's pretty good, man. That's not bad. I'll take it."
Seen by many in his party as a moderate, Christie rebuffed the idea that he is not conservative enough ideologically for Iowa voters.
"I tell them what I think and then everyone else will get to decide. They don't go in there and say, "Are you conservative enough? Are you liberal enough? Are you moderate enough?" That's not what people say, " he said. "They say, "Do I trust him? Can I count on him to tell me the truth? Is he somebody who can be a competent steward of our country's future?""
While Christie's trip stoked speculation about his own 2016 ambitions, he has the cover of visiting as chairman of the Republican Governors Association on behalf of GOP candidates including long time Iowa governor Terry Branstad. Christie's day crossed the powerful caucus state's media markets with a mix of private fund-raisers and a retail campaign stop where about 150 people packed MJ's restaurant in Marion. Gov. Christie worked a "selfie circuit" shaking hands and taking photos around the dining room in a swarm of media cameras as Gov. Branstad chatted with diners separately.
"I think he runs the old political king-show in New Jersey and so I am not for Christie anymore."
Voters familiar with Iowa's magnet for national political figures expressed curiosity about meeting Christie who last campaign here for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Some said the bridge lane closures controversy had soured their views of Christie while others said they were satisfied with his handling of the fallout from that scandal.
Retired electrical engineer, Charlie Kress said,"Before the bridge incident and investigation since then, I thought Christie was a really good person, a good man. But I think he runs the old political king-show in New Jersey and so I am not for Christie anymore."
Deb Eggers, owner of the Marion quilting shop "Cottage Rose" is intrigued by a potential Christie run for the GOP nomination, "I think he is a pretty interesting man. I have followed him a little bit so its kind of interesting to see what his plans are."
Many here talked about Christie's reputation for speaking his mind. "I think a presidential candidate or president has to have a strong personality," said Randy Allington of Marion, Iowa, who says he believes Christie has that leadership style, "He comes with baggage just like everybody else does, the bridge scandal and that kind of stuff but he's done a fairly good job of getting past that and concentrating on his strengths."
Scott Olson / Getty Images
DAVENPORT, IA - JULY 17: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greets guests after delivering a speech at the "An Evening at the Fair" event.
Christie ended his five stop day in Davenport at an open to the media, 25 dollar per plate fund raiser for Branstad where he promised to be back to Iowa often. "I've enjoyed every minute of it...every time I've come to Iowa I've been greeted so warmly. "I'll see you back here in Iowa really soon."
As RGA chairman, Christie said he had visited 19 states from December 2013 through June of this year with 14 more this summer.
"110 days to go!" Until the midterm election, Christie pressed the crowd to support Republican candidates for state and federal offices to gain a Republican Senate majority by backing Republican Joni Ernst to become the first female senator from Iowa.
Before the Davenport crowd, Christie referred to President Obama as a "bystander in the Oval Office."
Asked about the president's response to events in Israel, Christie said sharply, "He has not spoken out strongly, loudly or clearly enough for our single biggest ally in the Mideast."
"He comes with baggage just like everybody else does, the bridge scandal and that kind of stuff but he's done a fairly good job of getting past that and concentrating on his strengths."
"The fact is, the president has dropped the ball on that one, and I don't know if its too late to pick it up or not but he should at least be trying."
Christie, who insisted "this is not the appropriate time to decide" about a presidential run headed out of Davenport saying, "I'll see you back here in Iowa really soon."
First published July 17 2014, 6:39 PM