Updated: December 13, 2013 6:11AM
It only seemed like Chris Christie mentioned the number 61 nearly 61 times as he made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows. The Republican governor of New Jersey was hammering home the point that he had won big — with 61 percent of the vote — in his re-election in a deep blue state. The message was clear: He has the strategy for the GOP to take the White House in 2016.
Christie threw out some other numbers: 51, the percentage of the Hispanic vote he got; 21 percent, more than double the black vote he got four years ago; 31 percent, his support from Democrats, and 57 percent, the share of the women’s vote he got against a female opponent.
Now, Christie was careful to avoid declaring that he would run for president. Still, he was clearly laying down a marker for judging him against other potential GOP candidates.
His emphasis on electoral tactics contrasts with the sharp focus most of the rest of the likely 2016 contenders place on conservative policies. Christie already is running a general election strategy while most of the other Republicans are zeroing in on the primaries and caucuses.
That opens up Christie to criticism that he is putting the cart before the horse. Indeed, other likely candidates such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry question whether Christie has the conservative bona fides to win over ideologically zealous GOP voters, especially in early primary and caucus states like South Carolina and Iowa where the Tea Party and evangelical Christians can decide races.
Another complaint is Christie is peddling the same electability argument that Mitt Romney and John McCain did, and we know how their presidential bids turned out. But McCain was handicapped by the 2008 financial collapse, and Romney was vulnerable to charges Romneycare in Massachusetts fathered Obamacare.
If the knock on Christie is that he’s not conservative enough, his likely rivals also have drawbacks.
Perry will have to find a way to get over the poor first impression he made in the 2012 race when, during a debate, he couldn’t remember a Cabinet office he wanted to eliminate.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, once the brightest light in the constellation of young Republicans, disappointed Tea Party conservatives by helping write an immigration reform bill (from which he later retreated).
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz picked an unwinnable fight in foolishly gambling a government shutdown could get Democrats to stop funding Obamacare. He not only lost, but the debacle likely cost Republicans the gubernatorial race in Virginia.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is struggling with embarrassing evidence of plagiarism in a few of his speeches.
While these figures and other potential candidates court the party’s right-wing base, Christie tries to avoid the moderate-conservative argument and advertise his record of getting things done like tax reform and spending cuts by working with New Jersey’s Democratic legislature.
Christie’s big bet is that by 2016, he will be the candidate who can satisfy Republicans fed up with eight years of Obama’s hard liberal policies, and win over independents and Democrats hungry for a president who can, in Christie’s words, “get the job done” by working across party lines.