MANCHESTER, New Hampshire – The Granite State is going to see a whole lot of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie this week.
The likely Republican presidential candidate begins a nine-stop tour in the critical early voting state on Tuesday, right on the heels of two other candidates entering the 2016 fray: On Monday evening, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida announced his intention to run for the nation’s highest office in Miami, while on Sunday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did the same in New York.
Christie – who has seen his status as a first-tier candidate all but evaporate while he suffers low approval ratings and fallout from the so-called Bridgegate scandal – is expected to try and reassert himself in New Hampshire, which is emerging as a do-or-die state for the governor. Many say Christie—a northeastern moderate – would face difficulties in other critical voting states like Iowa and South Carolina where voters tend to cast their ballots for strict social conservatives.
The governor has said he won’t make a decision on whether to run for president until late spring or early summer. Besides Rubio and Clinton, GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky have officially jumped into the race.
Christie is kicking off his trip with a speech on entitlement reform at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. The governor “will discuss the need to bring systemic reform to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Disability Insurance in order to create fairness and ensure these programs support those who need them most,” according to his political action committee, Leadership Matters for America. After that, he’ll focus on retail politics, holding two meet-and-greets – one at a pizza restaurant in Manchester and then at a tavern in New Market – before attending a roundtable hosted by activist and businesswoman Renee Plummer in Portsmouth.
The rest of the week centers around a format Christie is very familiar with: town halls. After holding more than 130 such events in New Jersey, he’ll hold one in Londonderry on Wednesday and another in Exeter on Friday. He’ll also rub elbows with many of his potential Republican competitors at the First in The Nation summit in Nashua, also on Friday.
Kerry Marsh, a chairwoman of the Concord City Republican Committee, said the town hall format goes over well with New Hampshirites who “like to ask real questions, have real questions and not have politicians looking over their shoulder for the next hand to shake.” She noted, however, that several prominent GOPers will be in the state the same week as Christie, creating a buzz. “He needs to create his own buzz,” said Marsh.
But already, there's a pall over Christie's trip. According to The New York Times, federal indictments could come down this week on Christie’s allies and former staffers, stemming from accusations that they were involved in shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge, seemingly for political retribution, in 2013.
Christie has long denied any prior knowledge of the plot—and while he’s not likely to be directly implicated, indictments on anyone he was once close to isn't exactly a good look for an aspiring Oval Office contender. Also, with Clinton expected to stop in New Hampshire, along with a slew of potential Republican presidential candidates in town for the summit – it may be hard for the governor to dominate the spotlight as he may have hoped.
Meanwhile, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released on Tuesday showed bad news for Christie on the home front. According to the survey, just 24% of New Jersey registered voters said they think Christie would be a good president while 69% said he would not be – a 10-point increase in negativity since February.
Christie has dismissed criticism of his lackluster poll numbers. When radio host Laura Ingraham asked the governor about his approval ratings at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Christie shot back, “Is the election next week?”