Christie's New Hampshire Dress Rehearsal
NEW LONDON, NH -- He looked like a road-weary but fired-up presidential candidate: The hoarse voice, the “Jersey Fresh”-emblazoned fleece for the New Hampshire chill, the slight tan from the swing to the southern states, and the extensive entourage (including his wife, Mary Pat; his top two political advisers, Mike DuHaime and Bill Palatucci; and his top two governmental advisers, Kevin O’Dowd and Chris Porrino).
“Give ‘em hell!” someone called to Gov. Chris Christie when he walked into MacKenna’s Restaurant.
“Three words, Chris: ‘Run Chris, run!” yelled someone else.
“I’m thinking about it,” he said, again and again. Tantalizingly, once he added, “I might.” And when a local radio reporter asked him to announce his candidacy on her station, he said, “I’m sure if that ever happens I’ll be on your station a lot.”
Christie, technically, wasn’t here Monday afternoon to dip a toe in the presidential waters in a state that holds the nation’s first presidential primary (and represents, perhaps, Christie's first and best chance to affirm front-runner status in a crowded GOP primary field). Instead he was technically here to rally a white-haired crowd to boost the candidacies of Walt Havenstein, running for governor, and Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator now running for senate in New Hampshire.
When Christie first started coming to New Hampshire earlier this year to promote Havenstein's candidacy, Havenstein hadn't even won the GOP primary yet. Christie was criticized for bucking the tradition of the Republican Governors Association, which he chairs, to get involved in a race that didn’t yet have a nominee. It was alleged that Christie was just looking for a reason to campaign in New Hampshire.
But Havenstein is now within spitting distance of Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, and he could pull off an upset in Tuesday’s election. If Havenstein does, it would be a coup for Christie, proving that his political instincts were right in getting involved early in the race (he said Monday that he even helped to convince Havenstein to run). A Havenstein victory would also install a supportive politician into the state's top job, which could be important if and when Christie runs for president (Christie has spoken of the benefits of having Republicans control the “voting mechanism” in 2016).
Havenstein had only praise for Christie’s help with his candidacy, but he did look a little anxious as he stood alone in the parking lot of MacKenna’s, looking for the New Jersey governor’s motorcade. Christie had been delayed somewhere in the Midwest – New Hampshire was just one of five states he visited Monday, the end of a 19-state, 8,000-mile swing that culminates Christie's term as chairman of the RGA. So the New Jersey governor was even later than he normally is, and he therefore missed several speeches and the "Star Spangled Banner," as sang by Brown’s daughter, a former American Idol contestant.
When Christie arrived, he had the stage to himself, planting himself behind the counter as he rallied the troops.
“For those people who were doubters before they’'re not doubting anymore, and this governor is on the run and Walt Havenstein is gonna run her right out of the statehouse!” Christie said.
He introduced Mary Pat: “I wanted to show Walt and Scott that…I’m serious this time. So I brought Mary Pat.”
And he saw New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte out of the corner of his eye: “Wow, Kelly Ayotte is here! This is exciting.”
Afterwards, he repeated a refrain he’s been saying for months – that he’s “thinking” about running for president, and that traveling the country like this (about 90 events around the country in the last two months) will help him make the decision as the family learns “what its like to be on the road so much."
"We haven’t had time to talk about it in any serious way," he said. "But we will.”
Christie lingered in the parking lot taking pictures and singing autographs after the rest of his entourage had gotten into their vehicles. A woman named Joyce Lai, an independent voter who by state law can vote in the New Hampshire Republican primary, walked up to Christie to pledge her support.
“I think you should be the president,” she said.
“Thank you very much.”
“We need a Republican who’s a leader.”
“We’re gonna try,” he said.