“He’s probably the only Republican I would vote for,” said Joe Daly, a Democrat from Warner, NH, who voted for Biden in 2020 but is unconvinced of a second term. Among those on the right, Christie is “the most reasonable and rational alternative to the madman Donald Trump.”
Christie’s success in New Jersey politics — and what made him a national star around 2012 — was largely based on his ability to work with Democrats to win meaningful political victories. He aggressively courted Democrats throughout his 2013 re-election campaign, so much so that his top aides blocked access to the George Washington Bridge – the busiest in the world – to punish a local Democratic mayor for failing to support Christie. (it was not found participation).
But a decade later, it is the Democrats who are among the biggest supporters of Christie’s presidential bid.
A New York Times and Siena College poll from July found that 14 percent of Democrats would be most likely to vote for Christie as the Republican nominee – support that jumped to 24 percent when including “skinny” Democrats. . That’s more than Christie’s has polled in any survey of likely GOP primary voters since entering the race in June.
And Christie ranked third among Democrats after the first Republican presidential debate, with 12 percent of those who watched him saying he won, according to a New York Post poll. The same poll indicates that Democrats preferred Christie to be the Republican nominee behind Liz Cheney, the former representative from Wyoming who is not running for president.
The hard-core Republican who once called Barack Obama “weak and thoughtless” as he ran for the 2016 presidential nomination is now courting any voters who will listen to him in his bid to redux. He participated in a podcast hosted by former Obama aides and another co-hosted by veteran Democratic strategist James Carville. Former MSNBC host Chris Matthews called Christie ‘the liberal pin-up girl of the moment’ and New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote about how ‘fun’ it was to watch Christie tear up former President Donald Trump while other candidates pledge their support if he wins the nomination again. .
Even Christie’s campaign speech — the part that isn’t about keeping Trump out of the White House — highlights his cross-party appeal as a Republican who worked across the aisle to govern New Jersey.
It’s a message ostensibly designed to capture Republican and independent voters seeking a return to a seemingly bygone era of political politics – where “compromise” was not a “swear word” and where presidents apparently did not support the calls of their supporters to carry out their policies. No. 2.
But Christie is winning Democratic support in the process — something of a career deja vu for a politician who ran for a second term as governor of New Jersey with Democratic backing. Interviews with a dozen Democrats at recent Christie campaign events in New Hampshire reveal a clear interest in Christie, who placed sixth there in the 2016 primaries. And many of those former Joe Biden voters are planning to switching political affiliations to vote for Christie in the first GOP presidential primary.
Christie’s campaign claims it doesn’t directly target Democrats — or even pay much attention to support across the aisle.
But his team isn’t rejecting him either.
“If Democrats want to donate or vote for him, we’re open to that,” a campaign spokesperson, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, told POLITICO. The spokesperson added that Democrats’ interest in the moderate Republican was “predictable” given Christie’s past leading a blue state.
That resume hasn’t translated into significant overall support for Christie, though he edged out Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a recent poll.
Christie is attracting the attention of Democrats in part because of the way he runs his campaign. If 100 New Hampshire town halls were the hallmark of his 2016 candidacy, television appearances are the cornerstone of his 2024 campaign.
This strategy — to have the former ABC News spokesperson appear on any cable news show, radio program or podcast that will concern him, regardless of his ideological leaning — aims to achieve the greater number of potential Republican voters for the primaries. But that also puts him directly ahead of the Democrats.
And those TV appearances translate to on-court interest in New Hampshire, the nation’s first primary state where Christie is pinning his White House hopes for the second time.
Christie’s narrow path to success in New Hampshire runs through independents who make up the largest share of voters in the open-primary state and who are likely to play an important role in the Republican Party race without seriously attracting the Democratic side. .
But some Democrats are angry with Biden for pushing to demote New Hampshire in the party’s primary slate in favor of South Carolina, a more diverse state that propelled him to the 2020 nomination. of the age and faculties of the outgoing president. And in some cases, they see Christie as an alternative.
“There is a real possibility that a decent number of Democrats will switch parties so they can participate in the (GOP) primaries,” Chris Sununu, the Republican governor of New Hampshire, said in an interview after introducing Christie at a town hall in August. Pavilion of the Salem-Derry Elks.
“But to be honest, it’s really about the current independents. It’s a much more important thing for a Democrat to run in the Republican primary,” Sununu said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big opportunity right now. »
Interviews with Democrats at Christie’s campaign events reveal an interest in the New Jersey Republican who is rooted in everything from his relatively young age (he is about to turn 61, while Trump is 77 and Biden has 80) and his near-resolved mission to destroy his longtime party. friend turned foe Trump.
Michele and Bill Edwards of Salem said they were lifelong Democrats before opting out in the last election cycle. Michele Edwards said she was looking for younger options to keep Trump out of the White House.
“I can’t even believe I’m saying that,” she said, impressed with her own regard for Christie. “If you saw how many signs of Barack Obama and Biden (I had) in my life. »
Debra Newell, a Democrat from Concord, is among former Biden voters concerned about the president’s age. And though she’s not sold on the idea of voting for a Republican, Christie stands out.
“His whole presentation was brilliant,” Newell said after Christie’s town hall at Concord VFW in July. But, she added, “I really wish he had stood up to Trump a long time ago. »
While Democratic support could bolster Christie in New Hampshire, Republican pollsters and strategists say it could backfire in the long run.
“It’s hard to gain traction for the Republican nomination if too much of your support comes from non-Republicans,” said Siena pollster Don Levy.
Some Christie supporters caution him against attempting to openly woo Democrats, saying such a strategy risks alienating Republican voters in the GOP primaries.
“They’re Democrats for a reason,” former New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Wayne MacDonald, who chaired Christie’s campaign in New Hampshire in 2016, said in an interview. issue of loyalty to Governor Christie’s party – and he’s a good Republican, he’s a loyal Republican. »
Christie’s rivals are already trying to use his cross-party appeal as a weapon. Never Back Down, the super PAC that practically runs DeSantis’ campaign, released a memo ahead of the first GOP primary debate in Milwaukee urging the Florida governor to defend Trump against Christie’s attacks by accusing the New Jersey Republican of appeal primarily to Democrats: “I don’t think we want to join forces with anyone on this stage auditioning for a show on MSNBC,” says the policy memo presented to the governor.
DeSantis didn’t go. But Christie’s contempt for Trump — who remains the undisputed frontrunner in the GOP presidential field even as his legal troubles mount — still drew backlash from Republicans in the room that night. . Christie was booed by onlookers for saying he would not support Trump as the party’s 2024 nominee.
But there is precedent in which Republican campaigns are targeting Democrats in the New Hampshire primaries. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000, for example, focused on veteran Democrats by sending them letters from veteran state leaders. The campaign converted about 9,000 votes, according to Mike Dennehy, a longtime New Hampshire Republican who worked on McCain’s White House nominations and won the state’s primary.
Yet, said Dennehy, this operation was not successful enough to attempt to woo the Democrats again in 2008. Christie, he said, might also find it “not worth the time and effort” in 2024.
“It wouldn’t be a smart strategy for the campaign to target Democrats without a serious hook,” Dennehy said.
Christie will also have to move past New Hampshire, the state that ended his presidential campaign in 2016, to capitalize on some of the Democratic interest in his campaign.
Janalee Moquin, a Democrat from York, Maine, is becoming a fixture at Christie’s town halls in New Hampshire. She even brought her 80-year-old mother and fellow Democrat Barbara Moquin to hear her at the Derry-Salem Elks Lodge.
They both voted for Biden in 2020. But maybe not yet.
“I will definitely change my political affiliation to vote for (Christie) in the primary,” Janalee Moquin said. “He intrigues me. I feel like I could listen to him talk forever.