Sitting down on the stool in the center of the room, the New Jersey governor at first acknowledged that “gun violence is a threat to our safety and security” before launching into a minutes-long explanation of his opposition to stricter gun control measures, making the case that the true culprit is untreated mental illness.
“Whether it was the kid at Virginia Tech, or the kids in Columbine, or the kid at Sandy Hook, every one of them there were signs,” he said. “And you remember the interviews afterward, they are like, ‘Yeah we knew there was a problem.’ Well, we need to do something about it.”
Over the course of the event, Christie would draw the audience’s undivided attention time and again -- to laugh and even to cry -- in traversing the full spectrum of emotion within the stretch of a two-hour-long question-answer session.
At another point, Christie could be mistaken for a stand-up comedian as he assured a voter that being from New Jersey didn’t make him “shady,” in spite of popular culture’s exaggerated portrayal of the Garden State.
“I can’t tell you how many times I get people who come up to me like, ‘Do you know Tony Soprano?’” Christie told the audience.
"‘You know he’s a fictional character right?’” Christie said, imitating his reply, as the audience erupted in laughter.
Christie’s ability to captivate his audiences on an emotional level is at the heart of his strategy to move voters into his camp, with the campaign now seeking to capitalize on some of their candidates most powerful moments with a new video series titled “True Heart,” which is named after Christie’s answer to a debate question in which the candidates were asked what their Secret Service name would be.
The first video, released this week, features an exchange Christie had with an Iowan man who suffered from a severe stroke and aphasia.
“I can see in your eyes the frustration and the sadness that this brings to you and it touches my heart,” Christie tells the afflicted man in a video released by the campaign from a Coralville, Iowa, town hall. By the end of his extensive answer, as Christie thanked the stroke victim for his bravery to ask the question, the stroke victim rose to his feet, eyes glistening, to shake Christie’s hand.
A key turning point in Christie’s campaign came this fall when the Huffington Post posted a video of Christie’s telling the story of his law school friend’s struggle with addiction. It’s a story Christie tells with regularity on the campaign trail but went viral when posted to the web and has now been viewed over 8 million times.
“By every measure that we define success in this society this guy had it, good looking, great career, a lot of money, beautiful, loving wife, beautiful children, great house, he had everything,” Christie says, as he tells the story. “He was a drug addict and he couldn’t get help and he’s dead.”
“And when I sat there as the governor of New Jersey at his funeral and looked across the pew at his three daughters, sobbing, because their dad is dad, there but for the grace of God go I,” he continues.
But Christie also channels other emotions more consistent with his tough-talking image. Earlier this month, he cut off a man who accused him of supporting "mass legal immigration," which the man argued has brought Islamic terrorism and "multicultural mayhem” into the country.
Christie called the question irresponsible and ripped into his analysis as "completely fallacious.” In closing his response, Christie drew applause from the audience in declaring that he wasn’t going to “stand here and take it just because I’m running for president.”
And as if to seal in the emotional impact of his town halls, Christie often closes with the story of his mother’s death, recalling that he cut a work trip short to rush back to his mother’s deathbed in the final days of a battle with lung cancer.
“She reached over she grabbed my hand and said to me, ‘Christopher go to work, it's where you belong, there is nothing left unsaid between us,’” Christie says, causing more than a few eyes to well up in the audiences. “Other than the birth of our four children it was the single most powerful moment of my life. My mother was giving me permission to let her go.”