On the trail: Christie picks up the pace in New Hampshire

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gets ready to speak to the crowd at the Politics and Pies event at the Phenix Hall in downtown Concord, N.H., on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023. (Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester)

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gets ready to speak to the crowd at the Politics and Pies event at the Phenix Hall in downtown Concord, N.H., on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023. (Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester) Concord Monitor — Geoff Forester

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Valley News

Published: 12-06-2023 12:05 PM

With New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary less than eight weeks away, Chris Christie is upping his game — and his sales pitch to Granite State voters.

“I’ve enjoyed the dating period. Now it’s time for us to get married,” the former two-term New Jersey governor who’s making his second White House run told the crowd recently at Politics and Pies hosted by the GOP committee in Concord. It was a line he had also used at a town hall in Concord the previous night.

Asked in an interview with this reporter if he was landing marriage proposals from voters in the state that holds the first primary and second overall contest in the GOP nominating calendar, Christie said “I got a bunch last night after the town hall meeting.”

“The biggest difference between now and eight years ago is people that are coming to town halls are committing,” he emphasized.

As Christie runs a second time for national office, he faces a steep uphill climb against former President Donald Trump, who remains the far-and-away front-runner in the race as he makes his third straight White House bid. And he’s once again concentrating his time and resources in New Hampshire.

As he did in the 2016 cycle, Christie is concentrating his time and resources on New Hampshire, which holds the first primary in the Republican schedule and votes second after Iowa. Christie is currently in third place in New Hampshire public opinion polls, far behind Trump and slightly trailing Nikki Haley.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

By the Way: Music drew me to the Episcopal Church
Dartmouth to pitch plans for West Wheelock housing project
Thetford 57, Hazen 53: Third championship in six years produces a sweet celebration
School Notes for Monday, March 4
Short-term rental debates pit Upper Valley property owners against neighbors
Montpelier 58, Hartford 49: Wait continues for Hurricane boys basketball

Christie placed all his chips in his campaign for president eight years ago in the Granite State. However, his campaign crashed and burned after a disappointing and distant sixth-place finish in New Hampshire, far behind Trump, who crushed the competition in the primary, boosting him toward the nomination and eventually the White House.

Christie became the first among the other GOP 2016 contenders to endorse Trump and for years was a top outside adviser to the then-president and chaired Trump’s high-profile commission on opioids. However, the two had a falling out after Trump’s unsuccessful attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Biden. In the past three years, Christie has become one of the harshest Trump critics in the Republican Party.

With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror, Christie’s shifting his lean campaign into a higher gear, increasing the number of events he’s holding with Granite State voters. Last week’s quick swing included two town halls in Concord, including one organized by the New Hampshire State Employees Association. The union said Christie was the first GOP candidate to meet with the membership in three decades. Christie returns to New Hampshire this week for a two-day tour of college campuses. It will include a stop next Thursday evening at New England College in Henniker, N.H.

Christie recently unveiled what his campaign touted was a “strong and “influential” New Hampshire steering committee, which included former state GOP chair Wayne McDonald, former Rep. Charlie Bass, and two former Republican state Senate presidents — Peter Bragdon and Tom Eaton.

Christie told this reporter he’s stepping up his game “because people here are starting to focus too in a way that was much different than let’s say the last four or five months. You can tell by the attendance at the town halls. You can tell by the kind of questions that you get. And you can tell by the way that they’re reacting. They’re getting ready to make their decisions too and so you gotta be up here and make sure that you’re making the case.”

Christie made the stage at the first three Republican presidential primary debates and pushes back at speculation that he’ll fail to reach the higher qualifying thresholds for next week’s fourth debate, which is being held at the University of Alabama.

In August, ahead of the first debate, Christie told this reporter that Republican presidential candidates who didn’t qualify for the showdown should drop out of the race.

Asked if his blunt suggestion would come back to haunt him, Christie quickly answered, “I’ll be on the debate stage next week, so we won’t have to worry about it.”

And he reiterated that he’s 100% confident that he’ll qualify.

Haley’s having a moment on the campaign trail

As she arrived back in New Hampshire on Tuesday for two-day campaign swing, Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina governor, landed the much-coveted endorsement of Americans for Prosperity Action, the political wing of the influential and deep-pocketed fiscally conservative network founded by the billionaire Koch Brothers.

The group has pledged to spend tens of millions of dollars and mobilize its formidable grassroots operation in key states across the country — including New Hampshire — to help push the Republican Party past Trump and support Haley.

The endorsement by AFP Action Haley comes with the group’s powerful direct-mail and field operations, as well as a major ad blitz in the early voting states.

“Organizationally speaking — it’s significant. This is muscle. This is political dollars and door knocking. It will help,” Republican consultant Matthew Bartlett, who splits his time between New Hampshire and the nation’s capital, said.

Haley, addressing the crowd at her first stop last week in New Hampshire — a town hall at the historic Derry, N.H., opera house — asked, “How many of you are here to hear me for the first time?”

A lot of folks in the audience raised their hands.

“There’s a lot of new people coming out and seeing Nikki,” said longtime GOP strategist Rick Wiley, who’s steering Haley’s operation in New Hampshire. Wiley emphasized it was a sign that Haley’s message is resonating.

You can see the volunteers grabbing their information,” Wiley said as he pointed to the crowd of first-time attendees. “We have RSVP’s and we’re going to put them to work.”

Haley arrived in New Hampshire after drawing roughly 2,500 people to a campaign event last week in her home state.

While the audience of some 325 didn’t compare to the South Carolina gathering, it was one of her largest crowds to date in the Granite State.

Among those attending was Republican state Sen. William Gannon, who endorsed Haley earlier this autumn.

Referencing the crowd, Gannon emphasized, “They like Nikki. She’s warm. She’s personable. We have candidates who could possibly win a primary. These people know that she can win next November.”

Also in the audience were two former U.S. senators.

“She’s been a chief executive. She knows what kind of legislation is necessary to get an economy going. She’s a fiscal conservative,” former Sen. John E. Sununu said. “I think if she can convey those concepts of letting people make decisions for themselves, getting the country moving forward and not looking back, then I think she’s going to do well in New Hampshire.”

Sununu, the son of former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu and the older brother to current Gov. Chris Sununu, said he remains neutral in the GOP presidential nomination race, but is considering endorsing and helping support a candidate.

“Like every other voter in New Hampshire, I’m excited about the primary,” he said.

Former Sen. Gordon Humphrey said that he’s “leaning toward Nikki Haley. I think she’s far and away the best of all the candidates.”

Humphrey, a vocal anti-Trump Republican turned independent, pointed to what he described as Haley’s “heavyweight experience” as a governor and in foreign policy and national security through her tenure as ambassador to the United Nations.

“She’s well-spoken. She has personality and charisma, sparkle, energy, dynamism,” he touted.