KEENE, New Hampshire – At a country club here in the southern part of this crucial, early voting state, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie broke from some of his potential 2016 Republican presidential rivals, saying he believes in climate change and that humans have something to do with it.
“I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it,” said Christie, who plans on making a decision on whether or not to seek the nation’s highest office sometime in May or June. He added, however, that there needs to be more discussion about the degree to which humans play a role.
Christie, who is struggling in the polls -- especially after federal prosecutors recently brought charges against three of his former allies over the scandal known as “Bridgegate” -- made the remarks at the Cheshire County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in front of a crowd of about 200 GOPers, activists and lawmakers. He was responding to a question from Carl Panza, a 73-year-old, retired marketing director.
Christie's remarks are a departure from several GOP presidential candidates. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas have denied human-caused climate change. Even the more moderate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has refrained from saying climate change is man-made, even after the White House last year issued a report insisting the environmental phenomenon is a potentially catastrophic reality hastened by human behavior.
Christie stressed, however, that when it comes to curbing climate change, the United States or a group of states “can’t be acting unilaterally” especially “when folks in China are doing things to the environment that we would never be done in our country ...There’s no use in denying global warming exists. The question is what we do to deal with it.” Christie also expressed skepticism about cap and trade programs.
Panza said afterward that he liked Christie’s answer and would support the governor in 2016 if he runs for president. “He’s forthright. He says it how it is,” said the Keene resident.
Not everyone at the event felt that way, with several expressing concerns about the 2013 lane closure scandal on the George Washington Bridge, carried out by some of his staffers and allies, seemingly for political retribution. Christie has denied any prior knowledge of the plot.
Rita Corey, a 64-year-old Keene resident who attended the dinner said that while she liked Christie’s “strong personality,” she was concerned about the recent Bridgegate developments. “He has a lot of explaining to do. I’m anxious to hear what he has to say. I want to vote with someone with integrity and loyalty," the teacher and hostess at Olive Garden added.
Sarah Rooney, a 21-year-old student and self-described independent living in Keene echoed that sentiment but went further. “If I find out he is involved, I wouldn’t give him the time of day,” she said.
The fundraisers and meet-and-greets beginning Thursday are Christie’s first public events in New Hampshire since former Port Authority executive David Wildstein pleaded guilty last Friday for his role in the politically motivated lane closures. A grand jury also unsealed a nine-count indictment against Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and Bill Baroni, the governor’s then-deputy executive director of the Port Authority, for their alleged involvement in the scheme. Both pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that included conspiracy and fraud.
Speaking about the indictments, Juliana Bergeron, a Republican National Committeewoman from New Hampshire who helped organize the dinner, said, “Obviously, it doesn’t help him, but I don’t know how badly it hurts him." She added, “I actually think he’s in a better position now that others have been indicted and he has not been included in that.”
Earlier in the day, Christie -- after an event at a drug addiction treatment center in Manchester, emphasized that he cut ties with those he believed were involved and that he was not charged by federal prosecutors. “I have no misgivings about it. And I don’t think fair people looking at it will have misgivings either. They’ll understand that mistakes get made, and they’ll want to know do they have a leader who is strong enough to be able to own up to those mistakes, be accountable and then take the action necessary to fix them. That’s what we did,” he said.
Still, the picture is not yet complete. Baroni and Kelly’s trial date has been tentatively set for July 7. Alan Zegas, Wildstein’s lawyer reiterated a claim last week that he’s made in the past – that “evidence exists” showing Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening. And Michael Critchley, Kelly’s lawyer, has said he would not rule out calling the governor to testify.
During his keynote address and other events during the day, the governor addressed several hot-button issues including Common Core (Christie said he had “grave concerns,”), immigration (he called Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s position “extreme”), and even the football deflation scandal (Christie said he has no reason to believe football player Tom Brady “lied or cheated”).
During his remarks at the dinner, Christie branded himself as a truthteller, willing to take on challenging and even unpopular issues. “Sometimes I am too blunt and I am too direct for some people’s taste … but you never have to wonder what I think,” he said.
New Hampshire is quickly emerging as the do-or-die state for the embattled governor. Even in the Granite State, where the governor – a fellow northeastern Republican – could conceivably do well, he’s only polling at 3% among likely Republican voters and in 10th place overall among the emerging GOP field, according to a new survey by WMUR.
Christie responded to the lackluster poll numbers in the WMUR survey earlier in the day, noting just 5% of those polled said they had definitely made up their mind. “I’m more than happy to work on the other 95%. We’ll be just fine,” he told reporters.
Christie’s New Hampshire visit continues on Friday with a breakfast meet-and-greet in Amherst, a roundtable discussion hosted by former state Sen. Gary Lambert and a town hall meeting at a pub in Dover.