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Notes From New Hampshire, #2: Chris Christie — Reassuring Bulk

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Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a town hall campaign stop at the American Legion, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Epping, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a town hall campaign stop at the American Legion, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Epping, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

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by Jack Beatty

The woman sitting beside me was torn.

Cruz or Christie? She couldn’t decide.

"Why them?" I asked.

They were only candidates tough enough “to take it to that crook, Hillary,” she told me.

She was a strategic voter. A “negative partisan.” Defeating the other party came before selecting the candidate of her dreams.

We were at a Christie town hall meeting at the American Legion Hall in Epping, in the southeast corner of the Granite State.  My neighbor had been exposed to the Christie  persuasion at another town hall.

How had he done?

“He answered the questions he was asked," my neighbor said. "He doesn’t talk down to people. He’s very  direct — no PC [political correctness] — and very smart.”

I was about to ask what she needed to hear from Christie to get her vote when the Republican Governor of New Jersey arrived.

Her line on Christie was dead-on.  He answered every question. Was direct  (“Telling It Like It Is, “ read the blue banner on the back wall) . Did not talk down to people.  And seemed very smart.  But my neighbor left out  something you’d never guess that from the braying mask he dons during the GOP debates — how engaging Christie is.

This is hard to convey. It’s partly rooted in Christie’s belly-fed voice. Partly in his flowing speech. And partly in his bulk: he can’t help seeming solid. Call weight his neurosis. Call it his manifestation of the propensity for self-subversion that defines original sin. But you sense that Christie has externalized his internal struggles.  And that’s reassuring.

“Let me have men around me who are fat,” Caesar tells Mark Anthony. Maybe, you think, what you see IS what you get. And there’s no inner demon waiting to act out in the White House.

“Iowa changed nothing,” Christie, who polled 10th in this week's Republican Caucus in Iowa, began. “Now the fun starts.”

Christie’s career is on the line this week in New Hampshire. Unless he runs second or a close third, the New Jersey governor is through. On the strength of his close third place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio is suddenly the hope of the party Establishment. He’s filling Christie’s lane. Bulky Christie has to dislodge “the boy in the bubble.” For Christie, the “fun” will climax in the GOP debate on Saturday night, when he will try to unmask Rubio as a lightweight who “has never done anything.”

“Seven years ago we made a tremendous mistake, “ Christie said, pacing the cleared  patch of floor in the packed hall. "We elected a first-term senator to the presidency. A guy who had never done anything.”  And it turned out, Christie continued, “He couldn’t run Bingo Night at the Manchester Senior Citizens Center.” Like the untested Barack Obama, the untested Marco Rubio is an orator. He talks a good game he’s never played.

Hillary would take Rubio to the cleaners, Christie warned. “Worse yet, would be electing another senator who wasn’t ready to be president.”

At this point the lights and sound went off. “Hey, I’m from New Jersey,” Christie quipped. “We're used to operating in the dark and shouting.” This got a laugh.

Promising that “you won’t walk out of here confused about where I stand,” he invited questions.

First question: Are you a hot head?

He copped to angry. “About injustice. Hypocrisy.” A dysfunctional Congress. A broken government.

“But what am I fighting for?" Christie asked. "Not for myself. For you. “ Applause.

Still: “Politics is a people business.” Christie talked up his relationship with the New Jersey Senate President, a Democrat named Steve Sweeney.  “You gotta know how to get along with people you disagree with to work for the common good.” Loud applause.

Second question: What would you accomplish in your first 100 days?

Christie answered crisply and concisely. The audience appreciated it. Unlike President Obama, Christie does not feel the need “to number the streaks on the tulip,” to quote the Christie-shaped Samuel Johnson. It’s a sign of his self-confidence.

Questions followed about energy, guns, ISIS, and his Cabinet:“I wouldn’t do the Noah’s Ark thing," Christie joked. "One of this, one of that.  I’d select people who can do the job. Competence. And I’d tell them: For every dollar I give you, I want you to save one cent. Not too much to ask, is it? A penny?” Applause.

Question: Why didn’t he take on Trump?

“I’ll get around to Donald.” After Rubio.

Question: Can you beat Hillary? My neighbor stirred.

“The Democrats are voting blind. She could be indicted. “

Pause.

“She’s entitled to a presumption of innocence.”

Smile.

“But lemme tell ya.”

Pause.

“I’d love to prosecute Hillary on that debate stage next fall! Give me that chance and I’ll give you a President." That was his closer.

Applause!

"Well?" I asked my neighbor.

She smiled.

“He’s got my vote," she said.

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On Point news analyst Jack Beatty is sending us dispatches from his home state of New Hampshire, as the 2016 candidates for President make their final pitch to voters in the Granite State. Sign up for Jack’s Notes from New Hampshire Newsletter here!

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