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“If I don’t do well in New Hampshire, I’ll leave.”


Policy

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s main argument to New Hampshire Republicans is that they need to vote with a sense of responsibility and urgency.

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie speaks at a town hall in Bedford, New Hampshire, September 12, 2023. Sophie Park/The New York Times

In his unexpected quest for the Republican presidential nomination, former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has campaigned almost exclusively in New Hampshire: more than 90% of his events since February have taken place in the state of Granite, according to a New Hampshire. York Times analysis.

To hear Christie tell it, New Hampshire is his do-or-die state. If he doesn’t perform well here, that probably won’t be the case.

“I don’t see myself leaving the race before New Hampshire in any way,” he said in an interview. “If I don’t do well in New Hampshire, I’ll leave.”

Just as he did during his bid for the White House in 2016, Christie is banking on the independent leaning of New Hampshire voters to validate his candidacy and propel him into the race. (Christie ultimately finished sixth in New Hampshire that year and dropped out a day later.)

But while he blended into the crowd during the 2016 Republican primary, Christie occupies an almost solitary position in this race: as the candidate offering the harshest criticism of the runaway favorite, the former President Donald Trump.

Christie’s main argument to New Hampshire Republicans is that they need to vote with a sense of responsibility and urgency, because defeating Trump in the nation’s first primary could be the only way to stop his march toward office. inauguration.

“The future of this country is going to be determined here,” Christie told the crowd this week at a local brewery, IPA in hand. “If Donald Trump wins here, he will be our candidate. Whatever happens next will be on our party and our country. It’s yours.”

Although Christie has improved in recent polls, he still trails Trump in New Hampshire by double digits, and by much more in national polls and surveys in Iowa, the first state to field.

Chris Christie, Republican candidate in the presidential primary, autographs a photo of him and Barack Obama.
Republican presidential primary candidate Chris Christie signs a photo of him and Barack Obama during a campaign event in Rye, New Hampshire, September 11, 2023. – Sophie Park/The New York Times

Yet in the interview, Christie said he still sees a path in New Hampshire. He pointed to many former candidates who “failed late” in the state, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona during his 2000 campaign. Christie noted that McCain, who ended up winning New Hampshire, had driven across the state “basically in the suburbs with two assistants.”

Christie is apparently trying to emulate this style. This week, he traveled across New Hampshire with just a driver and two staff members. His campaign has no field staff in New Hampshire, and in total he only has 11 staffers on his payroll, according to his campaign.

During his trip to New Hampshire, his first since the opening debate of the Republican primary last month, Christie stepped up his criticism of the former president.

He now goes so far as to compare Trump to an autocratic leader, arguing that his conduct is unbecoming of the presidential office. Christie tiptoe predicts how the former president’s criminal indictments will play out, declaring that the country cannot have a “convicted felon” as its leader. And he goes after Trump with subtle attacks on his idiosyncratic tendencies, taunting the former president for his love of cable television and his apparent preference for well-done hamburgers.

But despite his willingness to go after Trump, Christie was denied his best chance to confront the former president directly on the debate stage. Trump skipped the first debate and appears unlikely to attend the second, which will be held in California at the end of the month.

Christie, who qualified for the second debate, said he had made contingency plans.

“I’m not going to let him be a coward and run away,” Christie said in the interview. “It could be meeting him outside his event as he walks in.” This could be to confront him when he comes out. It could be about going to the event. It could be a whole bunch of options that we’re going to try. I’m not going to tell them exactly which one I’m going to do, because then he would prepare his team and try to stop me.

Tell It Like It Is PAC, the super PAC backing Christie’s bid, latched onto New Hampshire’s approach to bust or bust early on. Of the roughly $1 million the group spent on radio and television advertising, 96 percent went to New Hampshire markets, according to data from AdImpact, a media tracking company.

Christie’s events became increasingly crowded as its stint in New Hampshire progressed, culminating with more than 150 people gathering in a non-air conditioning gym in Bedford. Audiences at his events tended to applaud his anti-Trump statements.

Republican presidential primary candidate Chris Christie arrives at town hall in Bedford, New Hampshire, September 12, 2023. – Sophie Park/The New York Times

His voters remain hopeful, but they recognize that his path is difficult.

“You have to believe he has a chance,” said Irene Bonner, 75, of Meredith, New Hampshire, who said she was normally apolitical but was inspired to come to an event by the speech Christie’s hardline against Trump.

“The party is completely blinded by Trump; It perplexes me,” said John Bonner, her husband. “After everything happened and the things he said and did. But at least Christie is talking. He added: “The others really aren’t. »

If Trump emerges as a candidate, Christie said, he won’t back down from his criticism.

“I can’t imagine ever being able to keep quiet,” he said in the interview. “I don’t think that’s part of my personality, so I’m going to continue to say what I believe to be the truth.”

He added: “But I will also be critical of Joe Biden, I’m sure, because I have been since he became president, and I suspect he won’t make some sort of about-face miraculous that would win my support. So I think I would probably have some difficult things to say about both of them if I wasn’t the candidate.

Asked if he would support a Trump-Biden rematch, the rarely concise Christie was succinct: “No.”

This article was originally published in the New York Times.

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