Christie Comes Out Swinging in Final Days of New Hampshire Race

  • Republican is buoyed by strong showing in pre-vote debate
  • He expanded blast zone in packed last few days of campaign

Chris Christie speaks during a town hall event in Hampton, New Hampshire, on Feb. 7, 2016.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A day after making headlines in the final Republican debate before the New Hampshire primary with blistering attacks on Marco Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie kept up the offensive as he strives for a strong finish in a state he made a critical part of his campaign.

“The whole race changed last night. There was a march among the chattering class to anoint Marco Rubio,” Christie said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “I think that changed last night.”

Christie kept up the offensive against the Florida senator during a round of morning cable news programs. Later, at a town hall meeting in the coastal town of Hampton, New Hampshire, he expanded the blast zone to include John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. Rubio, a first-term senator, was propelled to establishment favorite following a stronger-than-anticipated third-place finish in the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1.

On Fox News, Christie said Rubio will “crumble” in debates if he runs against seasoned Democrat Hillary Clinton. During the debate, he repeatedly hammered Rubio, accusing him of giving trite answers and relying on a 25-second stump speech attacking President Barack Obama.

’Big Difference’

“After that performance last night, do you think we should be coalescing around Marco Rubio?” Christie said. “I’m a leader, Marco’s a gifted young man. There’s a big difference.”

Turning to his competitor from Ohio, Christie said Kasich’s fellow governors call him many things, but “prince of good and lightness” isn’t among them. As for Bush’s promise to “joyfully” run for president, Christie told audience members in a school cafeteria to “go to Jeb and ask him how joyful this is now.” And Trump is just temperamentally unsuited to being president, he said.

The governor needs a strong last-minute push in the Granite State’s crucial first-test primary: a Monmouth University poll released Sunday showed Trump leading the pack with 30 percent support while Christie sits outside a tight clump of candidates vying for second that includes Rubio, Kasich, Bush and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Trump’s Bravado

“I’m not opposed to hope and bravado as an element, but hope and bravado don’t form the basis of a plan,” Christie said of Trump. “I like him. He’s a good person, but he is just not the person we want to be president.”

For Christie, the last few days of the New Hampshire primary are crucial. He passed on a shot to run four years ago, saying he wasn’t ready. This time, he has yet to find the same level of enthusiasm he did as the fresh-faced, tough-talking Republican who ran a Northeast state dominated by Democrats.

An emboldened Christie told reporters following a stop at Shooter’s Pub in Exeter, a shot-and-beer joint inside a bowling alley, that he’s “confident, not cocky” following his showing in the debate. 

Tyson’s Rules

The shifting dynamics of the race mean four or five of the Republican hopefuls will survive New Hampshire’s winnowing, Christie said, after referring to competitors who dropped out following Iowa. He’s so confident he’ll be among the survivors that his campaign has booked travel and has staff in place for the next primary in South Carolina on Feb. 20.

“You remember what Mike Tyson said, right? That great political philosopher said ‘everybody’s got a plan till you get punched in the face,’” Christie said of the former world heavyweight boxing champion.

Lynn Novier, a 51-year-old occupational therapist from Nashua with two sons in the U.S. Marine Corps, may be exactly the kind of voter Christie is hoping to win over with attacks on his competition. Departing the cafeteria, Novier said she arrived undecided and left intending to back Christie on Tuesday.

“I think it’ll make a difference,” she said of his debate performance on Saturday. “That debate, plus getting around to the town halls, will make a difference for him. He really needed it.”

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