Chris Christie

Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie described himself as one of the GOP’s “national leaders” this afternoon and many of the more than 200 Republicans who swarmed a cafe in Marion to meet Christie describe him as their favorite for the 2016 presidential race.

Karen Molacek of Cedar Rapids served as a local leader in Lamar Alexander’s presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000, but she’s been “sitting on the sidelines” ever since. She’s ready to step back into campaign mode if Christie runs for president in 2016.

“He says what he means and he’s not beating around the bush and we need some straight talking,” Molacek said even before Christie arrived.

Kathy Potts of Cedar Rapids is another fan who came early to get a table as she waited for Christie to arrive.

“I love Chris Christie,” Potts said. “I really like him. I like his personality and I hope he runs for president.”

Tracy Zirkelbach of Center Junction likes Christie’s style.

“You know exactly where you stand with him,” Zirkelbach said, shortly after shaking Christie’s hand as the New Jersey governor made the rounds in the restaurant.

Zirkelbach’s husband, Jon, said Christie’s star power is good for the GOP.

“We don’t have a lot of that,” said Jon Zirkelbach, who praised Christie’s handling of Hurricane Sandy.

Quinn Meyer is a college student from Dubuque who volunteered for Mitt Romney in 2012. He’s ready to volunteer for a Chris Christie Iowa Caucus campaign.

“This is going to be a big one for especially the Republicans,” Meyer said. “I really like Christie and I think he’s got a pretty good chance to be the Republican front-runner.”

Jan Airy of rural Marion “absolutely” wants Christie to run for president in 2016.

“I think he’s honest,” Airy said.

During a news conference in the cafe’s parking lot, Christie told reporters voters are looking for a truth teller rather than a candidate who fits into the ideological box of conservative, moderate or liberal.

“What I think happens is that people get to know you and make a judgment on you,” Christie said. “They don’t necessarily put you in any box. The box they put you in, ultimately, is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and all the rest of the boxes really are meaningless.”

Joni Scotter is a well-known Republican volunteer in the Linn County area and while she’s a Christie fan, she isn’t ready to pick a presidential candidate yet.

“I think a lot of these people are just coming to take a peek at him,” Scotter said.

The vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee came to Iowa Thursday to take a swipe at Christie.

“It’s clear that Governor Christie has come here to try to revive (the) sagging presidential aspirations of his,” said DNC vice chair R.T. Ryback, who is the mayor of Minneapolis.

Ryback said Christie’s political clout has diminished because of the “bridgegate” scandal in New Jersey. Legislative investigators say now-fired Christie aides orchestrated major traffic tie ups as political retribution aimed at a local mayor. A Marist College poll conducted last week for NBC News found a third of registered voters in Iowa have a negative view of Christie. Christie said he’ll take that.

“Every time I come here to Iowa I get a great sense of affection and respect from the folks here, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be universally loved and if you want to be universally loved in this business, then you’re the absolute poster boy for being ineffective,” Christie said during this afternoon’s news conference. “I don’t care about being loved. I care about being respected.”

Christie did three fundraisers in Iowa today — a high-dollar morning event for the Republican Governors Association, a noon-time event for Republican candidates for the Iowa House and a stop in Davenport tonight to raise money for Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s reelection. The stop at MJ’s Restaurant in Marion in the afternoon was a hand-shaking and picture-taking event, followed by the news conference.

AUDIO of news conference, 16:00