NASHUA, N.H. — With Democrats deriding the effort as damage control and political rehab, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a foray into the governor’s race in this state traditionally critical to a politician eyeing a presidential run.
Democratic National Committee officials issued their criticism Thursday even before Mr. Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, campaigned here at BAE systems for Walt Havenstein, a GOP gubernatorial candidate. While stumping for Mr. Havenstein, Mr. Christie also defended his own record in New Jersey, saying he had tackled a “moribund economy” when he took office.
The stop here was sandwiched between a July stop in Iowa, which kicks off the presidential nomination race with the caucuses, and a September stop in South Carolina, the third stop on the nomination calendar. He plans to campaign with Gov. Nikki Haley, who is seeking re-election, according to a report by U.S. News.
“I can tell Walt that it’s not easy when you’re governor having to take over a moribund economy,” Mr. Christie said. “I know his is barely moving forward. Mine was moving backwards when we got there.”
A Democrat shadowing the governor provided a political quick response pointing out Mr. Christie’s willingness to campaign personally for a candidate facing a significant deficit in the polls against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.
“Just a couple of days ago he says he doesn’t do long-shot campaigns, but he is coming to New Hampshire where they are down by 20-something points,” said Mo Eliethee, DNC spokesman, alluding to how Mr. Christie recently dismissed New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino’s campaign as a “lost cause.” “So, I think it is pretty clear that this is part of his presidential rehabilitation tour.”
Mr. Eliethee, who was eventually asked to leave the event, challenged Mr. Christie’s storyline about his record in New Jersey, ignoring the state’s lagging job growth, high property taxes and multiple state credit downgrades,
“If he wants to come here and sell that as a model of good governance then we will buy the next plane ticket,” Mr. Eliethee said.
The attack likely foreshadows the criticism to come from Democrats, who have cast Mr. Christie as a bully and failed leader in the wake of the “Bridgegate” scandal.
But some observers said the energetic Democratic attacks show they are concerned that Mr. Christie could prove to be a tough out in a presidential contest.
“It is a gold medal they just put around the governor of New Jersey’s neck because when they come up — even way before a primary — and start trying to go after one side it means they are a threat to what they want to do,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. “If they thought that the candidate was not a threat, they wouldn’t do it.”
Mr. Levesque added, “I expect when Hillary Clinton lands here she will have the same crowd from the other team” waiting for her.
Republicans agreed. “The DNC clearly views Gov. Christie as a threat to them, both in 2014 as he raises record amounts of money at the RGA for GOP candidates, and looking ahead to a possible 2016 campaign,” said Jim Merrill, a veteran New Hampshire-based GOP strategist.
Recent polls show that Mr. Christie is leading the likely presidential primary field in New Hampshire.
“There’s no doubt New Hampshire Democrats are panicked about Maggie Hassan’s re-election hopes,” Mr. Thompson said. “Lagging behind their neighbors in economic development, Granite State residents are hungry for new leadership to drive New Hampshire’s comeback. Walt Havenstein is a top candidate with 30 years of private-sector business experience who would be ready to govern and lead right away.”