EXETER, New Hampshire – On Super Bowl Sunday, Gov. Chris Christie was on the offense.
At a bar off a bowling alley named Shooters with nearly as many reporters as supporters, the New Jersey governor fought to capitalize on his strong debate performance.
“The debate last night should show you something: Experience matters. It matters. Being tested matters. Being ready matters,” he told voters. “This is not a game – this is not just something where, well, the guy gives a good speech and looks good in a suit, so let’s make him president of the United States.”
Christie took swipe after swipe at Rubio in Saturday night’s Republican debate, when he called him out for repeating his talking points, dodging questions and having a resume that’s short on executive experience. Though his own poll numbers are slumped in fifth place while Rubio’s have surged to second, Christie argued that everything had changed with last night’s debate.
“Going into last night, there was a march among the chattering class and the political operatives in this country to anoint Sen. Rubio, and I think that anointment is now over,” he told reporters after the meet and greet. “So I think it changes the entire race, and it means there’s probably more tickets out of this state than I think there were before.”
Christie’s second event of the day seemed to have as many reporters as supporters – not an ideal ratio to have hours before the polls open on Tuesday – but a campaign aide said his town hall earlier in the day had attracted more than 500 people, a strong turnout on a chilly Super Bowl Sunday.
Still, Rubio’s momentum is undeniable: Even after a rough debate night, he packed a morning breakfast town hall at Londonderry High School with more than 800 supporters who waited nearly an hour before Rubio took the stage belatedly.
And while the speech began as an uphill climb – the advertised pancake breakfast was really more muffins and coffee, and activists stood outside in robot costumes that mocked his repetitive debate performance – Rubio feistily defended himself and impressed many.
Rubio’s got a big cash advantage, too: The Florida senator’s raised more than three times as much as Christie; at the start of this month, Christie reportedly had just $1 million on hand.
Christie’s folks did not respond to emails about whether the debate had helped boost the largely cash-poor candidate. Rubio said on ABC News on Sunday that he’d seen strong fundraising numbers in the first hour of the debate amidst the attacks.
“It’s interesting that right now, after last night’s debate, ‘Oh, you said the same things three or four times?’ I’m gonna say it again,” Rubio said. “The reason why things are in trouble is because Barack Obama is the first president, at least in my lifetime, that wants to change the country, change the country, not fix it its problems.”
Many of his fans said while they knew he’d had a rough night, they were standing by their candidate.
“Last night, he seemed to just trip up a little bit, but that’s all right; I still really like him. I just think he’s our best chance at beating the Democrats,” Becky Thomas, 54, told MSNBC.