Everywhere Gov. Chris Christie went around the country in the final week of the mid-term elections, people kept praising him for this: “Sit down and shut up!”
And they didn’t just like that particular take-down of a guy who interrupted his speech at the Jersey Shore last month. They liked the way he talked about that nurse, who maybe had Ebola, and they liked his YouTube channel of his most quotable soundbites (one Republican voter told me he binge-watched two hours worth of them). They liked, well, his big mouth.
“I love the way you talk to some of the reporters,” Joyce Lai, an independent voter, told Christie in a parking lot in New Hampshire.
“Like him especially, he’s a real pain in the neck, right here, this one,” Christie said, pointing to me. “If they ask stupid questions you have to tell them it’s stupid. And if they’re good, they’re good.”
“That’s right!” Lai said, shaking his hand.
“Well that’s the way I’m gonna be, we’re not changing any time soon. No matter how many times they write about it. We’re not changing.”
As Christie wraps up a year leading the Republican Governors Association and campaigning around the country, a picture is emerging of what we may see come the presidential primary: Americans seem to like Christie’s attitude. On TV, pundits pointed to Christie’s “sit down and shut up” moment and said it meant one thing: His presidential chances were done. Such gruffness may fly in Jersey, they said, but not in the rest of the country. But that’s not what Christie was hearing as he traveled the country.
And the closer Christie gets to making an announcement about running for president, he has not altered his style. He still fires back at reporters at press conferences when he doesn’t like the premise of questions. He recently got into it with a high school senior who questioned his commitment to Newark, and he argued with a woman who insinuated Bruce Springsteen didn’t like him.
I asked lots of folks in New Hampshire what they thought of these YouTube moments. Many say they like them because he seems to contrast so starkly with President Obama.
“We don’t have a big mouth in office, we kind of have a guy with no backbone,” said Keri Battersby, 29, an independent voter from Derry, NH. “So I think we need someone in there who’s going to say what he wants, do what he wants.”
Barry Cunningham, 50, pulled his 9-year-old twins out of school to meet Christie at a diner in New London, N.H. “Put it this way: It’s very refreshing to have a politician say exactly what he’s thinking, exactly when he’s thinking it,” he said.
Jim Rayno, 80, of Wilmot, was more succinct in describing Christie: “Ballsy.”
To be sure, there is not universal love for the Christie ‘tude. Rayno’s wife, Judy, 77, doesn’t like it. “I think it’s just too forward, it offends too many people and it doesn’t look presidential, to tell you the truth,” she said. “It fits in New Jersey, where they’re a bunch of — well, I won’t tell you what I think of them down there…I’m sure they like him.”
The Republican establishment likes him, too. This year, Christie showed party patrons that he backs up his pugilistic style with stamina. He traveled out of New Jersey 137 days, holding at least 102 events in the last two months alone. His voice was hoarse last week in New Hampshire, on the day before the election.
“I’m definitely not tired,” Christie said when asked how he was feeling. “You know me. Lots of energy. Boundless energy.”
He brought along his son, Andrew, 21, for the final five-day swing campaigning for Republicans in 19 states. When Andrew started to fall asleep on the private jet that Christie and his entourage were traveling in, the governor nudged him awake. What the hell are you sleeping for, he asked.
“You are a machine,” Andrew said. “I am not.” He put his headphones back on, and fell back asleep.
Christie put much of that machine-like energy into raising money this year: $106 million for the Republican Governors Association. The top three donors during Christie’s time leading the organization were tycoon David Koch, hedge fund manager Paul Singer and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — all of whom are the top players in presidential races, and could help fund a Christie presidential campaign.
If the RGA spending is any indication, most of the money Christie raises for a presidential run will go to attack ads.
In Colorado, Christie’s RGA ran an ad that features a father of a murder victim accusing the Democratic governor of granting clemency to the murderer. But clemency in the case isn’t even possible by law, prompting The Denver Post to call the ad a “malicious falsehood.” The maneuver failed, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper won reelection.
In Maine, one RGA ad promoted the candidacy of the independent in the race, not the Republican. The point was to pull votes away from the Democrat. Maine Senator Angus King, an independent, called the ad a political trick. But it may have worked — Republican Gov. Paul LePage beat the Democrat by 5 percent, with the independent candidate garnering 8 percent.
So in addition to Christie’s tough talk, his year long campaign for Republicans governors shows he plays tough, too. And we can expect more of both when the presidential primary starts to heat up in the new year.