Christie Locks Up Major Iowa Donors who Once Tried to Draft Him

Image: Republican Candidates Attend Heritage Action Candidate Forum
GREENVILLE, SC - SEPTEMBER 18: Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum September 18, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina. Ten republican candidates were each given 25 minutes to talk to the crowd at the Bons Secours Wellness Arena in the upstate of South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)Sean Rayford / Getty Images

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By Danny Freeman

DES MOINES — Presidential candidate Chris Christie has picked up the support of a group of wealthy and influential Iowa Republicans who hoped to draft the New Jersey governor to run for president four years ago.

Ahead of the 2012 election cycle, seven Iowa donors flew to New Jersey aboard agriculture millionaire Bruce Rastetter’s private jet to try and convince Christie to jump into the race. Six of the original seven publicly endorsed the candidate’s 2016 campaign Tuesday morning at the State Historical Museum.

"It became very clear to us that that same reason that we flew to New Jersey in 2011 exists today, and in even a greater way,” said Rastetter in front of a crowd of about 50 people. “We have decided that we want to move forward endorsing Chris Christie for president."

Christie joked that he used flowers and candy to woo the gentlemen and expressed gratitude for their backing.

“I’m so gratified to have the support of each and everyone of these gentlemen and the constituencies that they represent here in Iowa and across the country,” Christie said after taking the podium.

In addition to Rastetter, who is the CEO of Summit Agriculture Group, the other endorsers attending the event were commercial real estate company owner Dennis Elwell, former state Senator Jim Kersten and GOP operative Mikel Derby. Business investor Mike Richards and casino developer Gary Kirke endorsed Christie as well but were not in attendance.

The group is typically associated with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, as they have supported his campaigns in the past. Rastetter was a top donor to Branstad’s 2010 gubernatorial race.

"I had a reporter ask me yesterday does this mean you are a part of the Branstad wing of the Iowa Republican Party?” Christie said. "Well if by that you mean the winning part, yes I am…I’m proud to be a part of the Branstad winning wing of the Republican Party in Iowa.”

Of the Republican presidential candidates who are still in the race, Christie is 11th in terms of trips to Iowa since 2012, according to the Des Moines Register candidate tracker. This most recent swing, which included a town hall at Rastetter’s company offices Monday evening, marks his first public visit back to Iowa since the Iowa State Fair.

Elwell told NBC News that he is not worried about the lack of time Christie has spent in the state.

“It’s pretty early, you have four months before anyone’s going to vote. There is plenty of time,” said the real estate business leader.

Christie assured the crowd that he would be back to the Hawkeye State soon and often.

“Iowa is an extraordinarily important state for us. We intend to be here, and to compete hard,” the governor told the room adding, “We intend to do very well here."