The Star-Ledger

Christie Finds A Toned-Down Town Hall

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, April 16, 2015

By Matt Arco | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — New Hampshire is the place that made town halls famous.

Chris Christie built his fame by holding New Jersey town halls.

On Wednesday, the two came together as the Republican governor and potential White house contender introduced himself to voters in the first-in-the-nation primary state. It's expected to be the first of many to come as Christie continues to march toad a 2016 White House bid.

"I know I'm participating in a long-time New Hampshire tradition," Christie said at the top of the meeting.
MORE: Christie opposes making vaccinations voluntary

The event, held inside a local Lions Club meetinghouse, had some of the same features consistent with town hall events in New Jersey: an American flag, a banner describing the event's theme (this one is called the "Tell it like it is town hall tour") and a room full of folding chairs set in a circle around where the governor spoke.

But much was different from the Jersey version.

Christie walked to the center of the room to polite applause and without music blasting over the speakers. There was no rope separating the governor's speaking space from the crowd, and no giant blue curtain. Nobody pumped up the crowd before the governor's entrance. Christie didn't make his theatric coat to one of his aides when he got to the question-and-answer session (he simply handed it off).

And there were no Jersey-famous "ground rules."

In short, the New Hampshire version of the Christie town hall was toned down, felt less orchestrated and gave more of an opportunity for the voters who play an important role in deciding the nation's next president to ask what was on their minds.

And the friendly crowd appeared to approve what they saw.

"I liked it," said Chris Clifton, 71, of Londonderry. "I thought it was excellent."

The inaugural event was marked by stories about Christie's son getting accepted to college, jabs at President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and even veiled swipes at other likely Republican 2016 presidential contenders.

But Christie also gave detailed responses to each question he was asked, whether it was on tax reform, immigration or the president's potential nuclear treaty with Iran (Christie said the country is in desperate need of tax reform, he supports legal immigration and thinks "self deportation" is silly, and said Iran has "no basis to earn our trust").

"I always said I wish this guy would run because we need someone like him," said Dennis Martin, 55, of Londonderry, who described Christie as someone willing to tell it like it is.

"I'm hoping he runs," he said.

The governor insists he hasn't made a decision on 2016 yet and will make an announcement by June. But between then and now, Christie is working to reemerge as a credible contender who has fallen sharply from top-tier status.

Christie signalized he's intent on doing that by standing out as a strong leader.

"Issues will change and move over time, (but) what you need to know more than anything else is who is that person?" Christie said in his closing remarks.

"Because you're not going to be able to anticipate every issue that comes across the desk of somebody you elect. I never thought I'd have Hurricane Sandy, never could of planned or anticipated for that, but it happened," Christie said. "The people of my state understood they had somebody strong, who wasn't afraid to make decisions and would act and get their hands dirty."

Christie's arrival here diid include another New Jersey town hall staple: protesters.

"Chris Christie is coming to New Hampshire to tell a fairy tale about his record," said Ann Vardeman, program director of New Jersey Citizen Action, a group aligned with Democrats.

Vardeman was one of four people from the group who traveled from the Garden State to protest the governor's arrival in Londonderry for his first New Hampshire town hall. The state chapter teamed up with local activists.

"We partnered with people in New Hampshire to tell it like it is," she said, using the governor's own New Hampshire town hall slogan against him.

The protesters, about a dozen, stood outside the town hall with signs blasting Christie for giving corporate tax subsidies to businesses and refusing to collect more from high-income earners in New Jersey.

"He's given billions to corporations, protected tax cuts for millionaire and has nothing but a failing economy to show for it," she said.

Christie poked fun at the protesters when he introduced himself to people at the town hall, explaining how "unfortunately they were talking" amongst themselves when Christie's SUV passed them and missed their opportunity to shout at him as he drove by.

"They saw me as I went by and you could see how disappointed they were," he said to laughs from the crowd.

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