Christie gives Iowa vot­ers a sam­ple of Jer­sey charm

Grabs coat­tails of suc­cess­ful gov­er­nor

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA | Re­belling against be­ing pi­geon­holed as a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who can com­pete only in New Hamp­shire, Chris Christie has revved up his cam­paign in Iowa, bet­ting that vot­ers will think his brash style and New Jer­sey swag­ger are more “Iowa nice” than the blus­ter from front-run­ner Don­ald Trump.

As the New Jer­sey gov­er­nor barn­stormed across Iowa, he said his cam­paign is on the verge of a break­out be­fore the state’s first-in-the-na­tion cau­cuses Feb. 1. Fur­ther­more, he in­sisted that he is not a “fish out of wa­ter” in this ru­ral out­post where vot­ers are fa­mous for their po­lite dis­po­si­tions.

“We’ve al­ways had a strat­egy that if we de­velop a good or­ga­ni­za­tion here, which we have, that we are go­ing to com­pete here,” Mr. Christie told The Wash­ing­ton Times af­ter a town-hall-style meet­ing at Kirk­wood Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Cedar Rapids.

He noted a string of en­dorse­ments from busi­ness lead­ers and po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights in Iowa, as well as back­ing from the po­lit­i­cal team be­hind Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad.

“We are com­pet­ing in Iowa, and we are go­ing to try to do well here,” he said. “If Terry Branstad, who has never lost an elec­tion in Iowa, if his po­lit­i­cal team, his last two cam­paign man­agers, his chief of staff and his top six fundrais­ers all think that I’m good enough to sup­port in Iowa, I’ve got a pretty good track record and feel pretty good about it.”

Over the years, Mr. Christie has cul­ti­vated an im­age as a tough guy in New Jer­sey pol­i­tics. He gained na­tional at­ten­tion and plau­dits from fel­low Repub­li­cans when he shouted down and scolded in pub­lic his foes from teach­ers unions.

That’s not con­duct that usu­ally goes over well in Iowa. But this year even vot­ers in the Hawk­eye State have flocked to Mr. Trump de­spite his pen­chant for name call­ing and mean-spir­ited tweets.

When asked about Mr. Trump by a voter dur­ing a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion at the com­mu­nity col­lege, Mr. Christie launched into a lengthy ex­pla­na­tion of why the bil­lion­aire businessman and TV star is not suited for the White House and would be dan­ger­ous if elected pres­i­dent.

“If you don’t have ex­pe­ri­ence and haven’t done it be­fore, you’re not go­ing to want to see what’s next,” he said. “You think things are bad now? Just wait. It will get worse.”

He pre­dicted that Mr. Trump and the other front-run­ner, re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon Ben Car­son, will tum­ble when Iowans give them a closer look in the weeks be­fore the cau­cuses.

Mr. Christie is near the bot­tom of the list of con­tenders in re­cent polls, in­clud­ing in Iowa, where a CNN sur­vey last week showed him in eighth place with 3 per­cent of the vote, far be­hind Mr. Trump with 25 per­cent and Mr. Car­son with 23 per­cent.

Still, Mr. Christie’s lik­a­bil­ity rat­ings have risen, making him one of the most­liked Repub­li­can can­di­dates if not the most pop­u­lar on the sur­vey bal­lots. He also re­ceived a burst of pos­i­tive at­ten­tion for his heart­felt pleas to make drug ad­dic­tion a top is­sue.

The gov­er­nor also ben­e­fited from a strong per­for­mance in a de­bate Tues­day in Mil­wau­kee, where he was bumped from the main event be­cause of low poll num­bers and rel­e­gated to the early un­der­card fo­rum. But Mr. Christie nev­er­the­less thrived on the smaller stage, demon­strat­ing his de­bat­ing prow­ess and dom­i­nat­ing the dis­cus­sion.

Mr. Christie’s man­ner re­mained blunt and sin­cere at the town-hall meet­ing. He ar­gued that his ex­pe­ri­ence in New Jer­sey made him the best can­di­date for the White House.

He warned about the crises of en­ti­tle­ments and debt fac­ing the coun­try and how he would fix them, in­clud­ing by grad­u­ally rais­ing the re­tire­ment age and meanstest­ing ben­e­fits.

Say­ing he wouldn’t trust the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to raise So­cial Se­cu­rity taxes to shore up the pro­gram’s dwin­dling fi­nances, Mr. Christie used his New Jer­sey per­sona to make a point and get a laugh from the crowd.

“Why would you give more money to a group of peo­ple who al­ready lied to you and stole from you on the prom­ise that this time they are not go­ing to lie to you and they are not go­ing to steal from you?” he said. “Lis­ten, maybe it’s be­cause I’m from New Jer­sey and I’m a lit­tle more cyn­i­cal than most, but I think the peo­ple of Iowa are very dis­cern­ing also.”

The roughly 50 peo­ple who at­tended the town hall at the com­mu­nity col­lege re­sponded warmly to Mr. Christie, and sev­eral po­ten­tial cau­cus-go­ers said they ap­pre­ci­ated his blunt com­ments about So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care, which Mr. Christie has made a cor­ner­stone of his agenda.

Some drew dis­tinc­tions be­tween Mr. Christie and Mr. Trump that fa­vored the gov­er­nor.

“He’s force­ful, but he’s not ob­nox­ious,” said Dale Moore, 68, a re­tired en­gi­neer. “He comes across like a leader. We need a leader, and he knows how to work with both sides.”

Julie Copeland, 46, an ad­min­is­tra­tor at the com­mu­nity col­lege, said Mr. Trump also is an ap­peal­ing can­di­date be­cause of his out­spo­ken­ness. But she added that “some of the things that come out of his mouth scare me a lit­tle.”

Mr. Christie said he un­der­stands the wide­spread “anger and dis­gust” with Wash­ing­ton that has mo­ti­vated vot­ers to back Mr. Trump, but added that they would re­gret send­ing some­thing to the White House who does not have any po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

Mr. Christie, who has been friends with Mr. Trump for more than a decade, said he told him to his face that he was not the man for the job.

“I’ve said, ‘Don­ald, you don’t want this job. This does not play to your skill set. If the speaker of the House does not post one of your bills, you can’t fire him,” said Mr. Christie, draw­ing laughs and nods of ap­proval.

He pre­dicted that sup­port for Mr. Trump and Mr. Car­son will plum­met as the nom­i­nat­ing con­tests get closer.

“I don’t think peo­ple have thought about it in great depth,” said Mr. Christie. “Those of us who are also in this race are count­ing on the peo­ple of Iowa and New Hamp­shire, now that Thanks­giv­ing is com­ing and Christ­mas is com­ing, we all start think­ing about the fact that [Mr. Trump’s] sen­ti­ment is a good sen­ti­ment but any­body can burn a build­ing down; not ev­ery­one can re­build it.”

He stressed that he has the ut­most re­spect for Mr. Trump as a businessman and a friend.

But the gov­er­nor in­sisted that he, not Mr. Trump, had the po­lit­i­cal skills nec­es­sary to get the job done.

He touted his suc­cess as a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor work­ing with a Demo­crat-run leg­is­la­ture for the en­tire six years in of­fice, in­clud­ing re­form­ing the state pen­sion sys­tem and teacher ten­ure, cap­ping property taxes and bal­anc­ing ev­ery bud­get with­out tax in­creases.

“I know how to stand up [to Democrats] when I need to, but we’ve also made a lot of deals,” said Mr. Christie. “You have to have the ex­pe­ri­ence to know how to do that.

“You can hire any dummy to do a de­mo­li­tion job. Any­body can swing a ham­mer and de­mol­ish some­thing. You hire very dif­fer­ent peo­ple to swing a ham­mer to build some­thing,” he said. “I would sug­gest to you is you want some­one who is not part of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., who ac­tu­ally knows how to build some­thing, knows how to do some­thing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie in­sists he is not a “fish out of wa­ter” in Iowa, where vot­ers are known for their po­lite dis­po­si­tions.

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