Former aides give Chris Christie a head start in New Hampshire

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a news conference on March 28, 2014 at New Jersey State House in Trenton. Jessica Kourkounis, Getty Images

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

CONCORD, N.H. -- Less than a year from now, New Hampshire politicos expect the wide-open GOP race to win the first-in-the-nation presidential primary will be in full swing.

And though his political future is in question amid the ongoing Bridgegate investigations, Chris Christie will enjoy one key early advantage over his competitors here should he seek the Oval Office in 2016.

Two of the aides who helped direct the New Jersey governor's re-election triumph last year have since moved on to high-profile positions in New Hampshire politics, and their presence could be a significant boon to a Christie campaign.

The first Christie confidant to make the transition from Trenton to Concord in recent months was his former regional political director Matt Mowers, who in November was hired to be the New Hampshire Republican Party's executive director.

In January, Mowers was one of 17 members of Christie's inner circle whom the New Jersey Assembly subpoenaed in its probe of the September lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, but he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

With a marquee Senate race between Republican challenger Scott Brown and Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen, both U.S. House seats up for grabs, and a potentially competitive race to unseat incumbent Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, Mowers will have his hands full in his new position for the rest of the year.

And as he himself will tell you, there is no time to think beyond this fall.

"Because of Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen's blind support for Obamacare, Republicans in the Granite State have a unique opportunity to sweep every Democrat out of elected office for the first time in a decade," Mowers said in a statement to RCP. "I am excited to be part of the important effort to elect New Hampshire Republicans up and down the ballot in November."

But there is no doubt that as he works to turn New Hampshire's recently acquired blue hue a deep shade of red, Mowers will be picking up plenty of chits along the way --personal contacts made and favors owed, which he could potentially pass on to Christie after the midterms.

A similar prospect awaits Colin Reed, who left his job last week as Christie's deputy communications director. He's now Scott Brown's campaign manager in the former Massachusetts senator's bid to return to Washington, this time representing New Hampshire in Congress' upper chamber.

Reed has a long history with Brown. He worked on his first Senate bid while at the NRSC in 2010, then went on to become his Senate press secretary and later the communications director for Brown's failed re-election bid in 2012.

It's this relationship that Reed was eager to emphasize when asked about Christie.

"I've known Scott for more than four years," Reed said. "An opportunity to work with him again is something I couldn't pass up. I am excited for the next seven months and a victory in November."

Like Mowers, Reed was subpoenaed in the Bridgegate inquiry but has not been accused of any involvement in political payback scheme.

Mowers and Reed stay in touch with one another in their new positions, and both have earned praise for their work among the tight-knit group of political operatives who hold sway in this small but proud state.

As New Hampshire Republican consultant Rich Killion put it, the value for Christie in having Mowers and Reed here lies in their work that is not conducted directly on his behalf.

"Any presidential wannabe does well in New Hampshire by trying to do well for others," Killion said. "New Hampshire activists truly appreciate when folks across the country want to come up here and help us out on state issues. People here have long memories."

According to Killion, the phone calls from allies of would-be candidates, typically asking local operatives to "keep their powder dry" for 2016, have begun coming in more regularly. And the prospective GOP contenders themselves are coming to visit more frequently. This week alone, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee all will be in New Hampshire in advance of a Saturday forum in Manchester being hosted by the conservative groups Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United. Next month, Marco Rubio will be the latest White House hopeful to visit the state.

But quick forays to the state for party dinners and off-the-record stops at local haunts only go so far. It is key staffers' months-long slogs through the grind of Granite State politics, on the other hand, that tend to resonate deeply.

As one New Hampshire Republican fundraiser and activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, put it when asked what the New Jersey transplants' job transitions say about Christie's preparation: "Holy cow, is he smart."

In the latest RealClearPolitics polling average, Christie sits in second place in a hypothetical New Hampshire GOP primary field behind Paul in what figures to be a critical state for both prospective candidates.

And if it is too early to mention such things, the would-be contenders are hardly are acting like it, given their evident interest in early jockeying.

Steve Duprey -- a longtime party operative and a Republican National Committeeman, who was involved in bringing Mowers to the state -- said there was "no conscious decision" to recruit a Christie aide to a key position within the state GOP.

Nonetheless, Duprey offered some unsolicited advice for other 2016 hopefuls eager to build up goodwill in New Hampshire before the campaign here kicks off in earnest.

"If Rand Paul or Ted Cruz has somebody they want to come work here for the next six months, we'll take them in a heartbeat," he said. "I've got plenty of projects. They can come work for Steve Duprey."

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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