New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie brought his presidential campaign to Portland on Wednesday, receiving an endorsement from Maine Gov. Paul LePage and calling him a “great friend” who will play an important role in his bid for the White House.
The Republican touched on a range of issues during a 20-minute news conference, from President Obama’s policy on Cuba to gay marriage to the investigation that could lead to a possible impeachment of LePage.
Christie defended LePage’s threat to withhold funding from Good Will-Hinckley if the school hired Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, saying LePage “made a difficult decision he needed to make to benefit the kids.”
Christie said he made Maine his first stop after announcing his presidential bid Monday because LePage also is a Republican governor in a state that tends to vote Democratic.
“To receive an endorsement from someone who knows what it’s like to run a blue state, who knows what it’s like to make tough decisions, who knows what it’s like to engage in hand-to-hand combat to try to get things done for the people who elect you – to get an endorsement from Paul LePage today is an incredible honor,” Christie said during a morning visit to Becky’s Diner on Portland’s waterfront.
Christie, who noted that LePage’s endorsement is the first by a sitting Republican governor for any of the party’s 2016 presidential hopefuls, came to Maine five times to stump for LePage during his successful 2014 re-election campaign.
Both governors drew parallels to their straight-talking, no-nonsense styles.
In endorsing Christie, LePage said, “He’s not going to be a politician and talk out of both sides of his mouth.”
LePage said he was “inspired” by Christie’s work not only as governor of New Jersey, but also on behalf of the Republican Governors Association in 2014 to elect a “record number” of Republican governors. The RGA spent $5.2 million to re-elect LePage in 2014.
“When all of you and your colleagues around the country had me as a dead-walking governor, Chris Christie had faith,” LePage said to a throng of reporters on the upstairs deck of Becky’s Diner. “He believed in us, came up and supported me wholeheartedly, never batted an eye.”
SHARE ‘A BRASH STYLE OF GOVERNING’
Democrats – both nationally and locally – denounced Christie’s visit.
“The first major endorsement Governor Christie receives after announcing he’s running for president is from a governor who is facing impeachment threats for his role in exacting retribution upon a political adversary. Can’t say we’re surprised,” Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Kaylie Hanson said in a written statement.
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a written statement that “these two share more than a brash style of governing and a history of corruption, they have the same failed economic records to show for it.”
“Chris Christie must be desperate for media attention if he’s seeking Paul LePage’s endorsement,” Bartlett said. “Gov. LePage has alienated state lawmakers, his constituents and members of his own party as he faces growing calls for impeachment and investigations into his alleged blackmail of Good Will-Hinckley school.”
The stop kicked off a series of community meetings, endorsement events and town hall gatherings that Christie has planned for New Hampshire through Saturday.
Christie and LePage were greeted with light applause when they waded into a crowd at Becky’s Diner shortly after 10 a.m. Christie shook hands with patrons sitting in booths and at counters, and went out back to meet the kitchen staff. Asked about the Deflategate controversy involving the New England Patriots’ use of deflated footballs during the playoffs, Christie said, “It was overblown.”
MEETING WITH CONSTITUENTS
He also met with several people with ties to New Jersey who happened to be at the diner. Amanda Stetler, a teacher in Philadelphia who summers on the Jersey shore, said Christie would “do a wonderful job” as president. Sue Quincannon, who lives in New Jersey but spends three months a year in Falmouth, talked to Christie about “Bridgegate” – a controversy in which the governor was accused of causing traffic problems as an act of political retribution.
“People are being vindictive,” she said. “The liberal media is trying to bring him down.”
Keenan Gillard, 27, of Burlington, Vermont, and Tyler Arsenault, 28, a Portland native who lives in New York, didn’t know a presidential candidate would be coming to the diner when they showed up at 6:30 a.m. After they learned about Christie’s appearance, they decided to stay there past 10 a.m. to show support for Bernie Sanders – Vermont’s independent U.S. senator who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination – by making “Bernie 2016” signs out of napkins and knives.
“I’d like to ask (Christie) what he thinks about the Supreme Court rulings last week” about Obamacare and gay marriage, Gillard said.
Christie was asked about gay marriage. Although he opposes it, he said, he has taken an oath to uphold the law. He also opposed Obama’s move to allow the U.S. and Cuba to open embassies in each other’s capitals.
Both Christie and LePage brushed off calls for an investigation of LePage’s threat to withhold money for Good Will-Hinckley, a school for at-risk youths, because of the nonprofit’s decision to hire Eves. The school rescinded its offer in response to the threat. LePage said the Maine Constitution does not allow him to be investigated, and Christie said, “As with most things, controversies come and go; leadership is what stands strong and firm.
“I support the governor’s leadership. There are times you have to take tough stands and let people know exactly where you stand on an issue,” Christie said. “This governor has been a huge supporter of education in this state. He wants education to be made for the benefit of kids, not for the benefit of anyone else. So I support the governor’s stand he has taken on this.”
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE REPUBLICAN FIELD
Christie and LePage said they became friends after LePage was first elected in 2010, and that their relationship grew during LePage’s re-election bid. After a visit to Becky’s Diner on May 7, 2014, Christie made four more stops to campaign on behalf of LePage’s gubernatorial bid, including the night before the election.
Christie announced his presidential candidacy on Tuesday in his hometown of Livingston, New Jersey, becoming the 14th Republican to officially enter the race for the party’s 2016 nomination.
Republicans clamored for Christie, a former U.S. prosecutor, to run for president in 2012, but he faces an uphill battle this time around.
Although he easily won re-election in New Jersey in 2013 after getting a strong boost in public opinion in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie has seen his popularity – both at home and nationwide – decline on the heals of a political scandal. He and his staff were accused of intentionally causing traffic problems on the George Washington Bridge by closing two lanes as an act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who did not endorse Christie in 2013. He also spent much of 2014 criss-crossing the nation as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, causing some to accuse him of ignoring affairs in his home state.
The New York Times reported in June that Christie had an approval rating of just 30 percent among New Jersey voters, compared with 77 percent after Hurricane Sandy. A Real Clear Politics average of polls conducted from May 28 to June 28 shows Christie in the middle of the Republican field, trailing Donald Trump by more than 2 percentage points, 6 percent to 3.8 percent.
Christie’s campaign is expected to place an early emphasis on New Hampshire, which has first-in-the-nation primaries and where the town hall-style campaign events could play to his strengths.