It’s 4:30 on Wednesday afternoon on the shores of Newfound Lake in Bristol, New Hampshire, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is standing before a crowd of 50 people next to a barn, fielding questions about his fledgling presidential campaign.
The 90-minute campaign stop in the back of Fred Schneider’s waterfront home features lots of handshakes and personal conversations between Christie, a Republican who announced he’s running for president on Tuesday and those who came to see him. There are no microphones, and just a handful of television cameras and photographers.
Christie, 52, said this type of event helped him win the New Jersey governor’s race in 2009 and is key to winning the presidency. Small-scale gatherings will be a fixture of the campaign, he said.
“When you say, ’What are you doing coming to a small town like this and meeting with a small group of people?’ -- this is the way we started,” Christie told the crowd gathered by the barn. “We went from community to community in New Jersey meeting with groups of people who really cared about our state and felt it had gotten off track.”
In that campaign, Christie ousted New Jersey’s Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, the former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs who spent $105 million of his own money in two elections. Until then, a Republican hadn’t won a statewide election in New Jersey in 12 years and the state hasn’t sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate in over 40 years.
Christie has promised such small-scale gatherings will be a fixture of the campaign to secure the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
Earlier in the day, Christie made a surprise trip to Maine, where he received an endorsement from that state’s Governor Paul LePage. Later, Christie discussed foreign policy, curbing entitlement spending and veterans’ health care with about 250 people during a town hall meeting at a Veterans of Foreign Wars Lodge in Ashland, New Hampshire.
Republican leaders asked Christie to run for president in 2012, which he decided not to do. The governor is now one 14 candidates running for the party’s nomination.
He has some work to do. A Suffolk University poll of New Hampshire Republicans released June 23 put Christie behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, real estate developer Donald Trump, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Christie is counting on New Hampshire as the linchpin of his candidacy: a state with the first primary election and friendly turf for a Northeast Republican governor.
The gathering in Bristol came during Christie’s first full day as a declared candidate, and attendee Jon Heinonen, 60, said Christie handled himself well.
The owner of a wood-working mill, Heinonen said he was encouraged by a discussion on immigration the two had and is happy Christie is running. For now, Heinonen said he’s “curious” about Christie.
“It’s a little bit early yet and there are a lot of people running,” he said. “He said ‘I’m here and I’m in it.’ that was an important step to take.”