Chris Christie campaigns in Bedford with Republican gubernatorial candidate Havenstein
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greets Clemence Blanchard, 102, of Manchester, N.H., as her daughter Summer Heber looks on as he campaigns with New Hampshire Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein, top right, Friday, June 20, 2014, in Bedford,N.H. Havenstein faces Andrew Hemingway in the Sept. 9 primary to take on incumbent Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan in the November general election. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
Steak, potatoes and a handshake from Chris Christie were on the menu at Bedford’s T-Bones Great American Eatery last night, as the New Jersey governor retail politicked his way through the restaurant alongside New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein.
The two Republicans stopped by the restaurant in between a finance meeting for the Republican Governors Association, which Christie leads, and a private fundraiser at an Atkinson home. They shook hands, snapped photos and had a quick word with voters – voters whose support Christie will want if he runs for president in 2016.
But, Christie told reporters, he wasn’t in New Hampshire yesterday to discuss his own future. Instead, he was here to promote Havenstein, who’s running in a Republican primary against entrepreneur Andrew Hemingway for the right to challenge Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, this fall. Support from the head of the governors association further solidifies Havenstein as the establishment candidate in the race.
“It’s no crack at his opponent in the primary,” Christie said of his visit here. “What it is is an endorsement of Walt. I believe in Walt, and I think he’s the best candidate to help us win the governorship here.”
Havenstein, 64, is the former president of BAE Systems, a defense contracting business that employees thousands of state residents. Before retiring in 2012, he was CEO of Science Applications International Corp., another contracting company. He lives in Alton with his wife, Judy, and is a Marine Corps veteran.
Democrats were quick to criticize Havenstein’s decision to campaign with Christie, pointing to the scandal surrounding lane closings on the George Washington Bridge last fall and recent budget woes in New Jersey. For weeks, the state party has also been slamming Havenstein for a fraud scandal uncovered at Science Applications International Corp. during his tenure. Havenstein and his campaign say he was instrumental in discovering and cleaning up the fraud.
Despite the weeks of attacks and the recent release of Havenstein’s first television ad, many patrons at T-Bones yesterday said they didn’t know much about him other than that he is a businessman. A recent Suffolk University poll showed 60 percent of people haven’t heard of him.
“I like his conservative views,” said Joan Fontaine of Bedford. “I think a businessman is what we need as the governor of New Hampshire.”
Fontaine, a Republican, added that she is not a fan of Hassan, or U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Sue Snay of Manchester, who calls herself an independent, said all she knew about Havenstein came from a flier she received yesterday. She’s concerned about the recent state spending freeze Hassan had to put in place, but isn’t convinced Havenstein is a better choice.
“I just have a feeling he’s not going to know what the people are really going through,” she said.
But it was Christie who stole the show, with patrons standing up on their toes to take photos of him over the swarm of reporters and excitedly waiting to shake his hand. Several people mentioned they saw his recent appearance on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon where he performed “dad dances” alongside Fallon.
“I would like to hear more from (Havenstein), but he was kind of quiet, kind of overshadowed by Governor Chris Christie,” said Marcella Dube of Amherst. Dube said she voted for President Obama in 2012, but that she thinks Christie is a “pretty solid” candidate for 2016.
Most people who talked to the Monitor said the still-unfolding bridge scandal isn’t a make-or-break event for Christie’s political future and that they’d like to know all of the facts before ruling him out as a candidate. As for his 2016 ambitions, Christie stayed noncommittal.
“I’ve told everybody around the country that everybody who is looking forward to 2016 now is being foolish,” Christie told the press. “If we as a party don’t lay the right groundwork by electing governors and taking the United States Senate in 2014, we won’t have the strongest foundation to run off, no matter who the candidate is in 2016.”
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)