- Associated Press - Friday, June 20, 2014

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie insisted Friday that his trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state had nothing to do with his presidential aspirations and all about getting Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein elected in the fall.

At a campaign stop at T-Bones restaurant in Manchester, Christie said Havenstein’s background in the private sector gives him the experience to create jobs and lure new businesses to the state.

“Walt’s entire career, whether it was in the Marine Corps, whether it’s running the businesses he’s been running, is all about making sure the private sector works well and I think as governor he’ll do a fabulous job,” Christie said.

Havenstein, who faces Andrew Hemingway in a primary as he hopes to take on to take on incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan, said he was “delighted” that Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was campaigning for him.

Christie acknowledged that it’s unusual for the RGA chair to get involved in a primary election. Christie is a potential presidential candidate in 2016 and the visit to New Hampshire comes as he’s trying to recover from a political retribution scandal.

Christie feigned shock when he was asked if the visit was a warm-up for the 2016 presidential primary season.

“Absolutely not. How dare you,” he joked. “As I’ve said, everybody who is looking forward to 2016 now is being foolish.”

Still, Christie made a good show of the kind of retail politics that voters in New Hampshire insist upon, shaking hands and posing for pictures with a friendly crowd.

Christie insisted he was only there to support a fellow Republican.

“I know what it’s like to be a challenger against an incumbent governor in a northeastern state as a Republican,” he said. “And that’s why I’m here. Because I want Walt to see with his own eyes it is possible. You can win and you can win by standing up for the things you really believe in.”

He also said his visit was not intended to disparage Hemingway.

“It’s the quality of this candidate,” he said.

Havenstein called Christie’s visit an important step forward for his campaign.

“It reflects the momentum we’re gaining here in New Hampshire. I’m delighted that the governor is coming to campaign for me. We have to get the economy going better and Gov. Christie is here to help me make that happen.”

Havenstein said he didn’t worry that his campaign could be tainted by criticism of Christie and his administration over a political retribution scandal that shut down traffic on a busy bridge. He believes Christie when he says he had no knowledge of the plot and said when the New Jersey governor learned of his staff’s actions, he took action quickly.

In a pre-emptive call ahead of Christie’s visit, the Democratic state chairmen from New Jersey and New Hampshire criticized Christie over the bridge scandal and noted the economy in New Jersey has remained stagnant in his four-plus years in office.

“Our failed governor is really the leader that Walt Havenstein should not emulate,” said New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman John Currie. “He must be in some pretty serious trouble. I certainly wish upon the people of New Hampshire much better.”

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