Prominent Iowa Christie Backers Weigh in on Trump Endorsement [Updated]

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Jim Kersten: Iowa Legislature, Chris Christie: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

In 2011, concerned about Mitt Romney’s electability and troubles connecting with American voters — or just sold on the concept of President Chris Christie — six Iowa movers and shakers flew out to court the New Jersey governor. He ultimately decided not to run for president in 2012, but when he entered the fray last year, the six men again lined up behind him.

So, the Informer wondered, what did they make of Christie’s surprise — shock, some would say — announcement after dropping out of the race that he was endorsing Donald Trump for president? Over the weekend, we reached out to them: Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter, Ankeny real estate magnate Denny Elwell (not to be confused with Ankeny billionaire Denny Albaugh, who backed Jeb Bush), casino developer Gary Kirke, former Iowa Health System Chief Medical Officer Michael Richards, Iowa Department of Transportation lobbyist Mikel Derby, and former state Sen.-turned-lobbyist Jim Kersten.

“This is such a crazy political year,” Kersten told the Informer. “Nothing seems to surprise me now.”

Kersten suggested that Christie’s endorsement was a positive move, providing Trump with the expertise of a blue-state governor who’s had to work with Democrats and would have ideas about how to negotiate with political opponents in Congress to get things done.

“I think what Gov. Christie did was analyze those left in the race and looked at the fact that Donald Trump has momentum,” Kersten said, “and I think he thinks that by getting involved now he might have an ability to influence — this is assuming he wins — to help make sure reasonable people are around him if he’s elected president. I think he’s got the common sense to help advise Mr. Trump on those types of things. So I think it will help Mr. Trump.”

Kersten said he’s been “very loyal” to Christie ever since the trip to New Jersey in 2011. But did that mean he was ready to back Trump, who many establishment Republicans, despite the governor’s endorsement, continue to view with skepticism, if not outright panic?

“I think Donald Trump has done a good job of garnering the frustration of the American people, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, and I think the country really wants a leader who wants to turn the place upside down and really get the country back on track,” Kersten replied. “At this point I haven’t really formally decided but I’d be inclined to support Mr. Trump over any of the other candidates.”

Derby was less committal, but said, “I do believe as things sit that Mr. Trump will most likely be the nominee.” He said he’s now an “observer” of the race and not backing any of the remaining candidates.

“I was very disappointed when Governor Christie left the race as I felt (and still feel) he was the best candidate on either side of the aisle,” he said in an email.

“But no doubt, this is certainly a strange year on both sides of the aisle.”

We’ll update this post if we get replies from any of the other four Christie backers.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.