McCain: Christie candidacy viable, offers caution

Sen. John McCain
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on "Face the Nation," Sunday, October 2, 2011.
CBS/Chris Usher

Amid continued speculation that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is seriously considering a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, John McCain, 2008's GOP presidential nominee, said he thinks Christie would make a "viable" candidate - but he warned that "the swimming pool looks a lot better until you jump right in."

McCain, in a Sunday appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," declined to say whether or not he thought Christie "ought to" get into the race, but called himself a "great admirer" of the governor.

"I think it's a tough decision that only he and his family can make," McCain said. "I'm a great admirer of Governor Christie. I think he'd be a very viable candidate."

Still, the Arizona senator emphasized that "the swimming pool looks a lot better until you jump right in. The water may not be quite as warm as you think."

"Remember he's starting from way behind in fundraising and organization and other areas," McCain said, of Christie, but noted that if he does decide to run, "I wish him luck. I think that there is a bit of a caution."

Christie has repeatedly said he will not run for president, and has gone so far as to joke that only his suicide would put an end to the demands that he get into the race.

But sources have said the first-term governor is seriously reconsidering, and Republican insiders familiar with Christie's thinking about a presidential bid are now putting the odds of him running at 50-50.

A number of Republican donors and party elders have expressed support for the governor - particularly in light of what many perceive as an otherwise weak Republican presidential field.

But Christie would face a significant challenge were he to opt for running: As a result of Florida's recent decision to move its primary up to January 31, candidates are looking at a compressed time frame for the primary schedule. That means Christie would have only a few months to organize his campaign before the Iowa caucuses, which are now likely to fall in the beginning of January.

Republican Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, also speaking in an appearance on "Face the Nation," said Christie would have "a big following" if he gets in.

"He'll be a very strong candidate out of the chute," Barbour told CBS' Bob Schieffer. "I don't think it is too late for a candidate with his stature to decide to run. But I don't know what he's going to do. That's going to be up to him and his family."

Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, however, argued that while the New Jersey governor would undoubtedly provide "tremendous entertainment value" in the race, he doesn't have the record of "leadership and governance and effectiveness" required in a successful presidential bid.

"I think at the end of the day what this race is going to come down is effectiveness," O'Malley told Schieffer. "Whatever entertainment value Governor Christie might bring to the race - and certainly there will be tremendous entertainment value, especially if you like Don Rickles - but when it comes to being effective at creating jobs, improving schools and expanding opportunity his record in New Jersey has not been a record of governing for effectiveness."