I wish I could have made it down to Richmond for this, it sounded like an amazing couple of days. According to Hotline, this straw poll was conducted by around 1,500 or so people who were there. Gov. Christie won with roughly 14%, hardly a huge mandate but he did so over some very established names, which leads me to conclude two things.
Tea Party folks really are looking for different politicians. Unlike Romney, Huckabee, Gingrich and even Palin; Christie really has taken on "the establishment" in both deed AND word. He's brusk, in your face, and unashamed to take the fight to the powerful interests . . . something Tea Party voters are looking for.
The Tea Party is about limited government, low taxes, and economic liberty first . . . and social issues second. Gov. Christie maybe a Republican rock star right now, but he's hardly a champion of the Bush-style social issue campaigning. But that fits the mood of conservatives right now.
There is a chance that the Tea Party could genuinely "draft" a presidential candidate and it not be fake. Sarah Palin has alread stuck her toes in these waters, saying she'll run if folks want her too. And while he might be trying to push away from the Tea Party a bit for himself in New Jersey, the way he has acted and governed so far is exactly what the Tea Party is looking for. Some people are mistaking Tea Party with conventional conservatism. The Tea Party doesn't just want to take over and cut taxes, they want to take over and fundementally change the system not simply adapt to it. Christie has gone into New Jersey's deep waters and taken on every entrenched liberal special interests from teachers to government beauracracy. If the Tea Party is successful in taking over the GOP, it will be a candidate like Christie that wins the nomination - someone who doesn't just remold the system, but someone that tears the whole thing down and builds it back up.
Its why more moderate Republicans like Scott Brown and Chris Christie remain popular with the Tea Party - its becuase of the narrative of taking on the establishmnet and taking it down. The media and many Republicans miss this point and that is why tea party-backed candidates have swamped so many establishmnet types.