SANDOWN, N.H. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is making a pragmatic pitch to voters as he begins his uphill fight for the Republican presidential nomination.
“You need to know what you’re buying,” Christie told potential supporters at a town hall meeting Tuesday in New Hampshire hours after a kickoff rally at his old high school. He pledged to be straight with voters about his beliefs — “and if you like it, great,” he said. “And if you don’t, my goodness, there’s 13 other candidates to pick from.”
In New Jersey, the governor had lashed out against “bickering leaders” from both parties and said compromise should be considered a virtue in politics, not a sin.
“We need this country to work together again, not against each other,” Christie said with his wife, Mary Pat, and their four children standing behind him. He promised to lead a White House that would “welcome the American people no matter what party, no matter what race or creed or color.”
Christie brings a record of Republican electoral success in a Democratic state to the contest, underpinning his claim that he could lead effectively across party lines as president. But he’s up against an accomplished lineup of governors, senators and business people vying for the nomination. Christie’s effort is largely driven by his outsized personality; his resume, while notable, contains scattered land mines that have given many Republicans pause.
Christie headed from New Jersey to Sandown for one of his signature town hall-style events, opening a nearly weeklong swing through a state that is seen as crucial to his pathway forward. He received warm applause from a standing-room crowd as he arrived with his family.
“I want to be the next president of the United States and I intend to win this election,” he told those gathered in an actual town hall. He has already held nearly a dozen town halls in New Hampshire and plans more in coming days.
Four years ago, some of Christie’s backers tried to persuade him to challenge President Barack Obama. In the years since, he won re-election with ease, but also struggled to revive New Jersey’s moribund economy and fought with the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature over pensions and the state budget. Christie’s poll numbers at home have sunk to record lows.
While Christie’s turn as head of the Republican Governors Association was widely viewed as a success in the 2014 midterm elections, he’s also faced the fallout from the case against three former aides, charged with creating politically motivated traffic jams at a bridge to retaliate against a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse Christie’s re-election.
Christie has not been tied directly to wrongdoing, denies he had anything to do with the bridge closing and has seen no evidence emerge to refute that. Still, the episode deepened the sense that he may surround himself with people who will do anything to win. He declared early in the scandal that “I am not a bully” to counter the public perception that he is just that.
The governor faces a tough sell with many conservatives suspicious of an East Coast Republican who pushes compromise, but he has seemingly found his stride at times in visits to early voting states with the lively town hall meetings he’s known for at home.
In his kickoff speech, Christie said the country is “tired of hand-wringing and indecisiveness and weakness in the Oval Office.”
Christie grew up in Livingston, a town about 20 miles west of New York City, and served as class president at the high school. His high school friends were among the first to receive word that Christie would be launching his campaign at their old school.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.