MARION, Iowa -- At 3 p.m. on a Thursday, well after any lunch rush had come and gone, MJ's Restaurant in Marion was teeming with activity.

Local Republicans filled seats at nearly bare tables -- a coffee mug here, an iced tea there -- and dozens of reporters loitered, all waiting to see Gov. Terry Branstad and his potential-future-presidential-candidate guest, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, making his first trip to Iowa since 2012.

The whole scene initially felt like an awkward first date: Iowa Republicans, still puzzling over what went wrong in their last presidential election, being wooed by an attractive new suitor and urged to move on.

Vic Klopfenstein had ended up at this particular lunch joint by coincidence and decided to stay for the spectacle, but he was still hung up on a former flame.

“Is there a rumor mill out east about Mitt Romney running?” Klopfenstein, a former Marion mayor, asked. “Or the two of them together…” He trailed off wistfully, considering a Romney-Christie ticket. “They'd be unstoppable.”

A large share of Iowa Republicans still have reservations about Christie, and one-third have already decided they dislike him, an NBC News/Marist poll released Thursday showed.

“That's not bad,” Christie said when confronted with those numbers. “I'll take it.”

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