KEENE, NH — They loved his jokes, even the old ones. They said they believe he does what his campaign slogan says — “telling it like it is.” And at this town hall meeting at a cozy bar Monday night, those who couldn’t fit inside stayed on the sidewalk and listened to Gov. Chris Christie on a loudspeaker for nearly two hours.
Yet, Christie woke up Tuesday to a new Monmouth University Poll that has him running eighth — eighth! — in New Hampshire. This is a problem for Christie because he has oriented his presidential campaign around winning New Hampshire, which holds the first primary in the nation. The poll showed that Donald Trump is beating the rest of the field and hurting Christie more than anyone else because the governor is many Trump supporters’ second choice.
That reality was not evident at Lab’n Lager Food & Spirits on Main Street in Keene Monday night. Christie’s answers were met with a warm reception, from his calls to raise the retirement age for Social Security to replacing Obamacare with state-based systems to ripping up President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. He peppered his answers with conversational language like “dude” and “bro” and “man,” and he had the crowd rolling with laughter at several points, like when he quoted the letter from his daughter’s college, Notre Dame, setting him up for yet another tuition increase.
“I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck!” he said.
For most of his more than 100 town hall meetings in New Jersey, Christie has told the story of his mother on her death bed. When he ended this event with his mother’s dying words, a retired Navy submariner wiped tears from his eyes. Christie bought a beer for another older man — $4 to cover his $2 brew — and joked that when Trump comes through, the man should get $100 out of him.
Attendees had similar praise for Trump and Christie, saying they are both blunt, but some like Trump better because he says things that have typically only been spoken about in hushed tones at home.
So far Christie has been reluctant to criticize the billionaire phenomenon. After all, they are friends. Trump sat in the front row at the mass for the governor’s first inauguration back in 2010. Christie attended Trump’s last wedding. But on Monday night at the bar Christie had a compelling exchange with a big fan of Trump, Shirley Paulson, 83. She asked why Christie thinks he’d do a better job as president.
“Don’t tell me because you’ve got political experience,” Paulson said. “I don’t really want to hear that.”
“I love the fact that you asked the question and told me what I could answer,” Christie said.
“I’m like that,” Paulson responded. “That’s the way I am.”
“Now I understand exactly what you like about Donald!”
The crowd roared in laughter and Christie went on to say that Trump would be frustrated as president because his skills are not transferable to the presidency. You can’t fire the Senate Majority Leader or the Speaker of House, he said. On the other hand, Christie described himself as skilled and experienced at the art of compromise that makes a democracy work. Afterwards he gave this woman a kiss on her cheek and promised her he’d win her vote.