On the campaign trail, Christie paints himself as man of the people

Last modified: 4/16/2015 12:34:23 AM
At 11 a.m., he was the governor of New Jersey – the latest politician to take the stage at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics with a policy pitch and, perhaps, an eye on the White House.

But when he walked through the doors of Caesario’s Pizza & Subs on Elm Street in Manchester, the same guy insisted: he was just “Chris.”

“I did notice, I called him ‘Governor’ and he corrected me and said ‘Chris,’ ” said Marcus Metzger of Goffstown. “Because he wants to be a man of the people, apparently, not formal.”

Of course, that average Joe image only goes so far for any politician when you’re being trailed by dozens of journalists with recorders and cameras in hand. Members of the national and local media lined the entrance outside the pizza place before Christie’s arrival; when he showed up, some resorted to standing on the seats of Caesario’s dining booths to see over the small crowd engulfing the politician as he worked his way around the room to talk to customers.

The governor, meanwhile, hit all the notes you’d expect out of a politician thinking about making a play for the presidency – even as he hasn’t formally committed to a run quite yet. Selfies? Check. Handshakes and autographs? Check and check. Nods to the home sports team? Check.

Genevieve Coursey snapped a portrait with Christie on her phone when he stopped by the booth where she and Metzger, her co-worker, were seated.

“I told him, watch, I’m going to be used as the example of the young Republicans,” Coursey joked, conceding that her political leanings tend to be more liberal.

And even if they weren’t all sold on his politics, Coursey and others at the restaurant agreed that – as a person, at least – Christie seemed plenty likeable.

Stopping at another table, the governor was quick to play off of the team logo on one customer’s T-shirt.

“Good luck to the Sox!” Christie exclaimed as he greeted Harold Schleicher of Manchester. A moment later, Christie added: “As a Mets fan, anybody who, you know, any anti-Yankee guys are the guys for me.”

Schleicher, for his part, said he’s undecided but – at this point – probably leaning toward voting for Hillary Clinton.

Christie started his day at Saint Anselm College’s Institute of Politics, meeting with students and delivering a speech on entitlement reform to an audience peppered with elites of New Hampshire Republican politics.

Zef Vataj, a freshman who’s studying politics at Saint Anselm, was among the students who got to talk to Christie before his speech yesterday morning. Vataj said he was impressed by the candor the governor seemed to project – especially when faced with a blunt question. The student said he asked Christie to rate his chances of running for president on a scale of 1 to 10. His response, according to Vataj?

“He gave me an 8,” the student recalled later last night. “That was nice to hear.”

Claira Monier, former director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority and a veteran of Republican campaigns in the Granite State, said she gave Christie an “A” for substance – even if she took issue with his decision to refer to Medicare and Social Security as “entitlement” programs, when people have to pay into them.

Nonetheless, she said, “his details were excellent,” and she was glad to see a candidate willing to address the future of the issue.

“I was bothered by the fact that he had to use a teleprompter,” Monier added. “I’d rather hear from the heart, and the fact that he didn’t answer questions. But that’s our New Hampshire take on things.”

Voters have a few chances to ask the governor questions during his swing through New Hampshire this week. He’s hosting two “Tell It Like It Is” town halls in New Hampshire: one at noon today at the Londonderry Lion’s Club and another at 5:45 p.m. Friday at Shooters Sports Pub in Exeter. In between, his agenda also includes a roundtable with Renee Plummer, a Portsmouth businesswoman active in Republican politics, as well as a tour of the Made in NH expo with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.

And Christie’s just one of dozens of high-profile Republican candidates set to parade through the state this week, leading up to the state party’s First In The Nation Republican Leadership Summit this Friday and Saturday. The event is set to include speeches from all major potential candidates, as well as appearances from other politicians including U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta and former Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown.

Ahead of the event, former governors Rick Perry of Texas, Jeb Bush of Florida and George Pataki of New York are all set to make their own stops through the state.

But Monier, for her part, isn’t planning to go to this weekend’s summit.

“That’s focused on politics rather than substance, and I want to focus on substance this election – I’ve done the politics bit,” she said, with a laugh.

And even though she’s fielded a few calls courting her support for potential candidates, she isn’t expecting to endorse anyone soon.

“I’m not picking one until the end,” Monier said. “I have been disappointed a number of times with candidates with clay feet. I want sustainability. I don’t even care if they’re Republican or Democrat. I want to hear their ideas. I want to hear more than nice speeches. I want to know what they’re thinking.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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