WASHINGTON -- Not all long shot gubernatorial candidates are created equal.
Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dismissed Rob Astorino, the GOP's gubernatorial candidate in New York, with brutal candor. "We don't invest in lost causes," Christie said, speaking on behalf of the Republican Governors Association, which he is chairing this year.
Astorino is trailing incumbent New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo by an average of more than 30 points, and is down by as much as 40 points in some polls.
But a huge deficit in the polls is apparently not what makes one a lost cause, as Christie is scheduled travel to New Hampshire on Thursday to campaign beside Walt Havenstein, a Granite State Republican running an uphill campaign against the incumbent Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. It will be Christie's second trip to New Hampshire in two months on behalf of Havenstein, even though he trails Hassan by roughly 20 points in the polls.
For Christie, a trip to New Hampshire to campaign for Havenstein puts him in front of a key group of voters. Coming after the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary is a critical step in winning a presidential nomination, and for Christie the state is the cornerstone of a possible run at the nomination. It is geographically closer to his home state than Iowa, and more closely aligned with him in its political temperament.
Christie leads early 2016 polling in the Granite State, edging out Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) by a point in polling averages.
Christie's refusal to help Astorino might raise questions about how much presidential primary considerations are driving Christie's travel decisions on behalf of the RGA, but one Christie aide argued that Havenstein is not in the same class as Astorino. Although both face uphill battles, the political calculus gives Christie a rationale for campaigning in support of Havenstein.
The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal party strategy, said Hassan is a weaker incumbent than Cuomo. Data supports that conclusion: Hassan's average poll numbers hover around 50 percent, while Cuomo's are closer to 60. The Christie aide also pointed to voter registration numbers in New Hampshire, where Republicans outnumber Democrats, although undeclared voters do represent the biggest category. In New York, there are 3 million more Democrats than Republicans.
New York is a much more expensive media market as well, the Christie aide noted, and Astorino's $2 million war chest is a drop in the ocean compared to Cuomo's $35 million. Havenstein, meanwhile, is a successful, wealthy retired executive with an ability to fundraise, in addition to his private resources.
Havenstein must still weather a primary fight himself against tea party candidate Andrew Hemingway.
The Christie aide pointed to two additional factors: Republicans are competitive in both of the state's congressional races, and in the state's U.S. Senate race, where former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown is challenging Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. And finally, President Barack Obama's approval rating in New Hampshire is sagging, while in New York he is a bit more popular, even if his approval rating is still below 50 percent.
Democrats this week opened up another line of attack on Havenstein, pointing out that while CEO of Science Applications International Corp from 2009 to 2012, he helped the tech giant receive millions of dollars in contracts from the federal government to implement parts of Obama's health care law.
Havenstein spoke on a 2011 earnings call of helping SAIC "capitalize on new opportunities as federal and commercial health markets converge."
SAIC was paid $2.4 million in 2011 by the Program Management Office set up under the Internal Revenue Service to implement the law, according to a Government Accountability Office report. In 2013, another GAO report showed SAIC received $2.7 million, this time from the Health Insurance Reform Implementation Fund, also administered by the IRS.
Havenstein has told New Hampshire reporters that he wants to reform, not repeal, Obamacare. Christie political adviser Mike DuHaime dismissed Democrats' critiques of Havenstein's tenure at SAIC, saying it was not an issue for Christie.