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Christie sharpens attacks on Dems, kicking off final campaign phase

By Eli Okun
Union Leader Correspondent

January 03. 2016 9:01PM
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and wife Mary Pat open a new campaign office in Salem on Sunday. (Eli Okun)

SALEM — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie inaugurated a new campaign office here Sunday afternoon, the latest physical manifestation of his efforts to double down on New Hampshire with barely a month to go before the primary.

Christie told the group of residents jam-packed into the small space that the presidential race was kicking into a new gear, with more voters getting engaged.

“Everybody’s going to really start to pay attention now,” he said.

For Meghan Grubbs of Salem, whose stepfather owns the building, that message rang true: Her decision-making process is just beginning, she said, and she likely won’t choose among Christie, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush until close to the end.

And with the Republican ranks starting to thin out slightly, attendees in Salem and at an American Legion post in Merrimack on Sunday included House Speaker Shawn Jasper, whose wife had been a fan of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Windham Selectman Bruce Breton, a supporter of former New York Gov. George Pataki.

Having attracted more eyes and curiosity thanks to his recent rise in Granite State polling, Christie sought to convince people that he was the Republicans’ best shot of defeating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the general election.

On Sunday, he seemed to take particular relish in lobbing jabs at Clinton, repeatedly calling her “Secretary Happy Talk” and saying to laughter that “this is Hillary Clinton’s last shot to get back into public housing.”

And when he dug into national security, it was clearer than ever that Democrats and Republicans don’t just disagree on the right approach to foreign policy — they disagree on the underlying facts and the state of the world itself.

Christie mocked President Obama for having said that cable television has made Americans overly anxious about their safety. He told the crowd in Salem that the Saudi Arabia-Iran tensions this weekend were emblematic of Obama’s failed policies, and in Merrimack he called for eye-for-an-eye responses to foreign aggression.

“The Iranians are taking us for a walk, everybody,” he said, arguing that Iran was creating ballistic missiles to shoot not at Israel but directly at the United States. “Never thought we’d be in a position where we had to force folks to respect our country.”

During the question-and-answer session in Merrimack, many residents seemed to share his concerns, asking about a potential Iranian attack on the American electric grid, cybersecurity and building up troop levels.

Several dug into health care and immigration. Christie also railed against excessive federal regulation, which — striking a populist tone — he said had rigged the economy for the wealthy.

Though Christie spent most of his planned remarks attacking the Democratic administration and its “lawlessness,” Salem veteran Jeff Hatch said beforehand that he admired Christie’s ability to transcend partisanship, citing his willingness to embrace Obama after Hurricane Sandy.

“He put the people of his state first, which is what we need a leader to do,” said Hatch, who had just come from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s event and was deciding between the two.

But not everybody was focused on the issues Christie has placed front and center. One woman in Merrimack, describing herself as a conservative Republican, zeroed in on the annual bear hunt Christie has implemented for several years in New Jersey.

This prompted a response that no other candidate has — or could have — uttered on the campaign trail: “New Jersey has been overrun by black bears,” Christie said, before adding, “I don’t have a federal bear hunt policy.”

Presidential Merrimack Salem Chris Christie

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