A dismal showing in New Hampshire is a blow for the governor who had hoped to ride a wave of momentum after a strong performance in Saturday’s GOP debate held in Manchester. Christie’s breakout moment arrived when he went after Rubio, accusing the senator of rigidly sticking to script. The critique went viral, with “MarcoBot” videos popping up across the Internet. Christie pointed to the confrontation as a pivotal moment. “Saturday night changed everything,” he gushed to Today after the debate. And CNN reported roughly two-thirds of GOP primary voters were influenced by recent debates. But while Christie may have taken Rubio down a peg, it seems he didn’t do much to improve his own standing with voters.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Christie seemingly exhausted every tactic to win the state. He worked hard to appease voters, spending countless hours answering their questions in town halls, playing the retail-politics game long seen as a key to victory in New Hampshire. He talked up the amount of time he has spent in the state. And he even used intimidation to get his way, warning voters that if they reward a candidate like Donald Trump who has spent comparatively less time glad-handing, New Hampshire risks sending a message that candidates don’t have to spend much time on the ground in the state to win. In a dramatic plea, Christie even got down on one knee, as if he were going to propose, to convince a New Hampshire voter to side with him.
Christie swallowed his pride, and congratulated Trump on Tuesday, though he made clear that he doesn’t believe the real-estate mogul has sewn up the GOP nomination. “The race will continue down the road in South Carolina, and other states as we move forward, but for New Hampshire, they have chosen their candidate tonight, and he deserves congratulations for that,” he said.
The governor has already suffered defeat this primary season. A week earlier, at the Iowa caucuses, Christie performed poorly. He captured only a slightly higher percentage of the GOP vote than Rick Santorum, who dropped out of the race a few days later, and Jim Gilmore, who didn’t make the cut for Saturday’s Republican debate and took to Twitter to talk about puppies instead. But that was more or less to be expected in a state where social conservatives hold so much sway. In New Hampshire, Christie’s campaign thought they had a better chance.
There, Christie tried to appeal to voters as a serious candidate, one with the experience and grit to handle the job of commander-in-chief. He also positioned himself as more moderate than some of his Republican rivals.
Still, even as Christie talked himself up, traces of doubt crept in. “We want to do very well, but I don’t think anything is do or die tonight after the performance we had on Saturday night,” he said during his segment on Today in anticipation of the primary. In the end, a breakout debate performance and time spent on the ground weren’t enough to secure a victory.