NASHUA, New Hampshire – Gov. Chris Christie announced his intention to head home to New Jersey to decide the fate of his presidential bid after a disappointing low finish in Tuesday night’s primary in the Granite State.
“We came here to say that speaking your mind matters, that experience matters, that competence matters, and that it will always matter in leading our nation,” Christie told supporters at a primary night party. “That message was heard by a lot of folks and it was stood for by a lot of folks here in New Hampshire, just not enough. Not enough tonight.”
Christie’s concession speech seemed to signal an imminent departure from the race: “We want to see exactly what happens,” he said. “Then it’s going to allow us to make a decision.”
The New Jersey governor seemed primed to be the race’s brash, straight-talking candidate, but front-runner and New Hampshire’s victor Donald Trump held that place in the race, leaving Christie polling in the single digits nationally. Still, the candidate said he saw sparks of promise after a strong debate performance on Saturday, when Christie derailed the surging Marco Rubio by portraying him as an empty suit reciting rehearsed talking points, and made a compelling case for a more-experienced candidate.
But the clash was more suicide than salvation for Christie, with voters instead flocking to his experienced rivals Gov. John Kasich and Gov. Jeb Bush, who came in second and third respectively here. As Christie threw tough punches at Rubio, which supporters and critics of the governor agreed came off a bit harsh, Kasich and Bush were able to boast of their own resumes, staying largely on message and positive.
Christie’s victory party – pegged “primary night headquarters” had a grim, glum feel that seemed to circulate around a busy bar. Few smiles dotted the crowd despite the peppy music that included Journey’s optimistic anthem “Don’t Stop Believing.” Few expected him to leave the race on Tuesday, instead hoping he could hold on for just a little bit longer.
The going gets a lot tougher tonight. Just five candidates leave New Hampshire with clear ticket forward: CBS News said Tuesday it will only allow the top five finishers in New Hampshire onto the stage of Saturday night’s Republican debate in South Carolina.
“It’s both the magic and mystery of politics that you never quite know which is going to happen,” Christie said.
Christie joins former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who scored 4 percent of the race here after being excluded from last Saturday night’s debate, and retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who grabbed just 2 percent.
Carson never put much effort into wooing the Granite State, spending just a handful of days here while instead focusing on Iowa and South Carolina, states with strong evangelical voting blocs, while Fiorina made a concerted effort but struggled to capitalize on any momentum she might have seen when she was excluded from Saturday night’s debate.
Fiorina gave extremely brief remarks at her own watch party, calling on supporters to “fight with me” as she moves forward. She’s vowed a long-term strategy and plans to head straight to Nevada now, skipping South Carolina, where she’s polling poorly and seems unlikely to qualify for the debate there.
Early this morning, just hours into voting, Fiorina’s RV pulled up to a polling site in Bedford, New Hampshire where it was greeted but just a handful of journalists – much of the mob of press was busy chasing Sen. Marco Rubio.
“When I started I was 17 out of 16,” Fiorina said, firmly deflecting questions about how the low-polling candidate will go forward after what’s expected to be another disappointing night. “We’re going all the way.”
Walking through the middle school serving as a polling place, Fiorina shook hands with a woman.
“Thank you for your support!” Fiorina said, beaming and shaking the woman’s hand before heading off to greet poll workers.
But after she walked away, Michelle Flynn, 51, admitted that she hadn’t voted for her.
“I voted for Rubio,” she admitted in hushed tones. “I love her platform, I just felt like where she was polling she was fighting upstream so hard.”