LIVINGSTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie launched his final sprint to Election Day with a bus tour Wednesday. With seven stops at diners and community centers, the tour felt more like a victory lap than the last days of a campaign.
While there’s some hand shaking on the Christie campaign trail, there are many more hugs and kisses shared between the governor and the crush of supporters who greet him at each stop, clamoring to take a photo or give him a smooch.
As Christie greeted voters by their first names and with a big bear hug, it seemed as if he was inviting almost every person to his Election Night party in Asbury Park on Nov. 5
“Brother, are you coming Tuesday night?” Christie asked supporter after supporter. “See you Tuesday night!” he said to many more.
Christie faces off against state Sen. Barbara Buono, and a Quinnipiac poll from earlier in the week still has him leading by a two to one margin, or by 64 percent to Buono’s 31 percent. The poll also shows that among New Jersey likely voters, 48 percent to 41 percent would like to see their governor run for president in 2016. Christie won by only four points when he was up against incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine in 2009.
“Just being the incumbent makes it different,” Christie said after his fourth stop of the day. “I was saying on the bus on the way in, there were no lights and sirens greeting us everywhere four years ago. It makes it different.”
But there’s another reason it’s different this time around. The number of elected or office-holding Democrats who have publicly backed Christie stands at 58, according to his campaign, and ethnically diverse events are packed with Democrats and people who describe themselves as independent. That’s something that of course would be key to any presidential campaign if Christie decides to run in 2016.
George Napoleon, a Haitian immigrant, made fliers to hand out at Christie’s first event at the Ritz Diner in the governor’s hometown of Livingston. The flier displayed the Haitian flag and read, “Haitians for Christie” above a photo of the governor. There were two other photos displayed on the flier: President Obama and Senator-elect Cory Booker.
“Governor Christie and President Obama care about our interests,” the flier reads. That’s something sure to make national Republicans shiver, but Christie just thanked and hugged Napoleon while a woman read the flier in Creole to a beaming Christie.
“For me, I don’t consider him Republican,” Napoleon said. “I don’t care about party. I care about heart. He’s got heart.” Christie told ABC News at his fourth stop of the day at the Nevada Diner in Bloomfield that his “job is to run as hard as I can, get as many votes as I can.
“Run as hard as I can and be as inclusive as I can,” Christie said. “You want to win as many votes as you can.”
When asked if that’s a message Republicans throughout the country should take note of, Christie turned coy, an adjective not usually applied to the governor.
“I think every candidate has to make their own choices about what their message is, and part of the problem is they worry too much,” Christie said. “Everyone’s got to make their own decisions, and what people want is for you to say what you feel from your heart and to be authentic, and so I’m not going to suggest what other people should be saying or doing. I say and do what I’m comfortable with. You know, if it works for other people, good for them, but they’ve got to believe in it. I believe what I’m talking about.”
In August, Christie spoke at the Republican National Committee’s summer meeting in Boston, and his message to the party was the GOP “needs to win,” not just talk, a message he is sure to push if he decides to run for president in 2016. And to win, Republicans will of course need Democrats on board.
“I don’t care what you read in the newspapers about these polls. Polls are wonderful, and heck, I’m very happy to be ahead in the polls, but that does not mean you are relieved from your duty of going out to vote on Tuesday,” Christie told a large group of senior citizens at the Fairlawn Senior Center on his third stop Wednesday.
“Who you vote for matters. It’s not necessarily about the party it’s about the person, and you need to make a judgment who is going to represent you best, who is going to make you proud, who is going to have your interests at stake.”
He told the group that he knows not everyone is going to agree with him on everything, saying with a smile, “You know this, you’re from here. The only person you agree with all the time is you. You never agree with everybody. That shouldn’t be the test.”
Vicky Kalmus came to see Christie at his first stop with her husband, Michael, and sister, Valerie Kolodin.
Kalmus said she too sees Christie as “bipartisan,” and her husband said Christie’s “plain talk” is something the country needs.
Christie’s fifth stop was an Indian-American community center and restaurant called Chowpatty in India Square in Iselin. The shops were selling Indian food and elaborate Indian-style dresses, and the corner where Christie’s campaign bus would pull up was packed with supporters, almost all Indian-Americans.
Viru Patel, the secretary of the Indian Business Association, described himself as a “very staunch Democrat” as he waited for Christie’s bus.
“But, as far as our governor is concerned, at this time we are going to support Gov. Christie,” Patel said. “In the aftermath of Sandy he did a really great job. … I think New Jersey came back. He did an excellent job that way.”
Patel added, as almost every person ABC News interviewed Wednesday said too: “Really, he says what he thinks. That’s what it is.”
So why are Democrats supporting Christie in such large numbers? John Weingart, the associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said it’s not just because people want to be with the winner, although it does factor in.
“I think people are seeing him as a leader and that seems to be a desired quality that trumps some policy differences that Democrats may have with him,” Weingart said. “He gives the impression of someone who is completely in charge of state government and running it well and making decisions. … People are hungry for that in a politician or in an elected official.” Weingart added that it has been the “prevailing wisdom” that Christie would be re-elected. Democratic local officials obviously want to be on the good side of the governor if it can help their constituents and themselves.
“Then there is a snowball effect,” Weingart said, referring to all the other elected Democrats who jumped on board.
The RNC is also helping the Christie campaign with minority outreach in the state, spending more than a half-million dollars on voter outreach to Hispanic and African-American voters.
It has two Hispanic outreach offices in both the northern and southern parts of the state, and each office has one staff member. Nationally, they have 16 Hispanic engagement staffers in eight states, including New Jersey.
Izzy Santa, the RNC’s director of Hispanic communications, just got back from a week in the Garden State and said, “We are competing for every vote.” The RNC says with the Christie campaign and the state GOP, it has reached out to 30 percent of the state’s Hispanic voters.
“We are showing up and engaging with the community,” Santa said. “Christie has done very, very well with the (Hispanic) voting bloc, and he wants to do very well in a week.”
The RNC has spent $1.5 million in total on behalf of Christie here.
Earlier at the Ritz Diner in Livingston, the owner, Marion Feldman, said excitedly that Christie grew up at the restaurant, and the governor’s high school friends were camped out at a large table in the back. Christie was clearly thrilled to see them, saying, “I know these guys!” when he spotted them. Hugs and back slaps quickly ensued.
None of the friends there said they were at all surprised by the governor’s success, including the friend who first met him in sixth grade while both were volunteering for one of Tom Kean’s campaigns, before Kean became governor.
Jay Isherwood said he “didn’t go as far in the political world as (Christie) did,” although they met on the same campaign.
“I think what surprises me is the amount of national attention that New Jersey gets as a result of Chris Christie,” Isherwood said.
“Politically, I think the Republicans are making a huge mistake by not rallying 100 percent behind Chris Christie. … They are saying and doing things that are very, very foolish, because he’s got the future and if they want to be part of the future they need to straighten themselves out.”
It’s Tom Kean who Christie says is his political mentor, and it’s no secret Christie would love to replicate Kean’s 1985 gubernatorial win when he beat his opponent by a historic margin: 71 percent to 24 percent.
Weingart said Christie’s sway with Democrats was “unusual, but not unprecedented,” mentioning Kean.
“Tom Kean when he was elected carried all but three municipalities,” Weingart said.
“There are 566 municipalities in New Jersey, so he was able to win places like Newark and Camden, which would normally be inconceivable that they would go to anyone but a Democrat. … Christie said all along he could never exceed that margin, and we will see.”
The Democratic Governor’s Association spokesman Danny Kanner wouldn’t comment on the number of Democrats who have backed Christie but said his record is “defined by economic failure.”
“Barbara Buono is a strong candidate who understands the struggles of the middle-class and, unlike Christie, lines up with the state on such issues as raising the minimum wage, marriage equality, gun safety and women’s health,” Kanner said. “This will serve Sen. Buono well as voters focus on the issues in the campaign’s final days.”