Notes From the Campaign Trail: Fiorina Hopes There’s Room For A Second Act

Are there second acts in American politics? Back at the end of September, Carly Fiorina’s political star appeared to be on the rise. After what most viewed as a dominating performance in the debate among second-tier Republican candidates, Fiorina was promoted to the big stage for the second major Republican debate, and again she received critical acclaim from political pundits for her performance. Those positive reviews translated into increased media coverage, which in turn boosted her name recognition and polling support. Over a two-month period, from August through Oct. 1, Fiorina gained almost 8% in national aggregate polling trackers, and she moved into a closely-grouped cluster of three candidates, along with Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who seemed poise to take the lead if the two frontrunners, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, faltered. She made similar strides in the key state of New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation primary; there at least two polls in late September placed her second, trailing only Trump by about 5%.

Unfortunately for Fiorina, she has not been able to maintain her polling momentum. Since Oct. 1, she has lost almost all of her previous two month’s gains in national polls, and she has dropped below almost every one of her rivals in recent New Hampshire polls as well. With only two months before New Hampshire’s primary, Fiorina is stumping across the state in a bid to staunch the hemorrhaging in her political support there. Last night she hosted a campaign event in West Lebanon NH, and your intrepid political blogger was there. Here’s what I saw:


Fiorina was introduced by Marilinda Garcia, a rising Republican star who lost by 10% in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional district to Democrat incumbent Annie Kuster in 2014. The auditorium in which Fiorina spoke was not quite full – I guesstimated attendance at about 150 people – but it was a far better turnout than the almost empty room that apparently greeted Fiorina at an Iowa Town Hall event on Monday. A show of hands indicated that most of the attendees were Republicans, and they appeared generally well disposed to Fiorina and her message, with frequent applause for her comments throughout the night. Before Fiorina took the stage, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and also sang the Star-Spangled Banner – a first at any of the campaign events I attended this year.

Fiorina began the night by noting that she started out this campaign back in May as “18th out of 17 candidates” – pollsters didn’t bother to include her name in polls – and so she appreciated the strong support she is receiving in New Hampshire. She then provided a brief biographical overview, beginning with her college education at Stanford (a Medieval History and Philosophy major!), her brief dalliance with a possible career in law and her decision to enter business school instead. After graduation she moved up the ranks in various companies, starting with AT&T and culminating in her controversial tenure as Hewlett Packard CEO. Only in America, she told the audience, could someone starting from her humble roots work their way up the corporate ladder to become a CEO of a major company and a candidate for the Presidency.

During the overview she acknowledged her bout with breast cancer (she had a double mastectomy) and the loss of her daughter Lori to drug addiction. These events, she said, made her particularly sensitive to issues of health care and the opiate addiction problem that has become so prominent in New Hampshire. She reminded the audience that she had probably met more world leaders than any other presidential candidate (with the exception of Clinton) due to her business dealings and subsequent role on a CIA advisory board and work with various international NGO’s such as Opportunity International. This made her uniquely qualified to deal with international issues.

She then turned to critiquing the state of American politics, calling the current government both “corrupt” and “inept” – characterizations that she said were shared by most Americans according to polling data. The corruption is because “the professional governing class” isn’t held accountable – politicians win reelection after reelection and bureaucrats are never threatened with removal. As evidence of ineptness, she noted that neither of the terrorists behind the San Bernardino attacks was on anybody’s watch list. In contrast to this lack of accountability, as head of Hewlett-Packard she had to file regular progress reports documenting progress, and if she tried to cook the books she would have been held criminally liable.

A good part of Fiorina’s appeal – one she played up repeatedly in her talk and in the question and answer portion (see below) – is that she comes from the private sector, and thus can claim to understand how technological innovation is changing the world. In this vein she scolded Congress for debating the details of the USA Patriot act, arguing that technological change had made the debate over a more than decade-old piece of legislation obsolete, but that professional politicians didn’t realize this. At one point she quipped that the best way to empower citizens was to makes sure everyone who still had flip phones threw them away. More generally, she touted technology, particularly communication innovations, as the key to allowing citizens to hold government more accountable. “Young people understand this,” she noted. During the Q&A, again touting the virtue of citizen involvement via technology, she said “there is app for citizen government” that allow for greater interaction between citizens and government officials.

She then launched into a discussion of her policy positions saying that as president she would be held accountable for achieving six things. Much of what she said, beginning with her “On Day 1 as President I will make two phone calls” – one to “her good friend Bibi” Netanyahu and one to the Ayatollah of Iran – is familiar to those who have watched her debate performances. Her first objective would be defeating ISIS. Here she made a direct attack on Donald Trump who, she said, was attempting to deflect attention from his lack of a plan for defeating ISIS by trying to focus attention on blocking Muslims from immigrating into the country. Interestingly, her swipe at Trump elicited strong applause from the audience. Fiorina would continue bombing, while expanding U.S. special operations. Pointedly, she did not call for more U.S. boots on the ground, but instead proposed reaching out to Arab nations to solicit more ground forces from them.

To fix immigration, in addition to securing the borders Fiorina would move to a “pro-American” immigration policy which presumably means a policy that lets in immigrants with desirable economic skills. She agrees with Bernie Sanders about the dangers of “crony capitalism”, but she disagrees with his solution. To Fiorina, crony capitalism works through its connections with government, and thus the cure is to reduce government, including repealing Obamacare. Here she returned to her history as a cancer survivor, acknowledging she understands what it is to be someone with a preexisting condition. But she would return responsibility for health insurance to the states, allowing them to establish high-risk pools for those with preexisting conditions. More generally, she believes in a free-market approach to health care based on informational transparency, in which patients fully understand the proposed treatments for health problems, their costs, and the treatment outcomes, and choose accordingly.

She noted that Americans are experiencing a period of “disquiet” that we are losing the character of this nation. To restore our belief in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we must find common ground on issues. Here she cited what she said was a growing consensus for defunding Planned Parenthood. She again pushed her tax simplification plan – “We can reduce the tax code to three pages” (this drew maybe the biggest applause of the night) – and touted the virtues of zero-based budgeting (without explaining what it entails) – “It’s the way you budget at home.” She finished by contrasting “managers” – “those who accept things as they are” – with “leaders” who work to change the status quo. Presumably she would be a leader!

Fiorina then opened up the floor for questions. As is typically the case, the Q&A session provided some of the night’s most interesting moments. Fiorina took six questions, touching on immigration reform, climate change, health care, Planned Parenthood, how to make government work, and dealing with the Russians.

When asked why so much of the immigration reform centered on removing “migrant farm workers” and other laborers, rather than terrorists, Fiorina responded, “You must be talking about sanctuary cities” which she opposes because they allow local governments to flout federal law. Regarding climate change, she expressed disagreement with those who cite it as the greatest national security threat (to great applause) and said she favored making the U.S. an “energy powerhouse” by making it easier to export “cleaner” domestic oil and coal. “Nuclear power has to be put back on the table too,” she noted, again to much applause. She defended her push to defund Planned Parenthood by noting that it was not fair to subsidize that organization with federal tax dollars while denying that money to community health centers that provide some of the same services. Pointedly, to the best of my recollection, Fiorina did not mention the infamous “baby killing” video the entire night. When asked how to deal with Russia, Fiorina responded, “I won’t talk. I will act” (again generating huge applause) by building up the 6th Fleet, instituting a no-fly zone in Syria, and developing anti-missile technology. Only after these are in place would she consider sitting down with Putin.

After taking questions, Fiorina finished up the night by citing two ladies – “Lady Liberty” and “Lady Justice” – as symbols of what this country stands for, and what must be restored to make it great again. “We must be one nation, under God,” she reminded the audience before asking for their vote. The audience gave her a standing ovation, and she spent significant time afterward meeting, greeting, and posing for selfies before heading out the back way to Manchester.

On paper, Fiorina would appear to be the type of candidate whose background and policy positions would appeal to the typical moderate New Hampshire Republican. But after her initial polling surge two months ago, she has struggled to regain traction here. One wonders how much of that has to do with her comments regarding the infamous Planned Parenthood video, which may have cost her some support among women and moderate voters. But it may also be the case that, as with other more moderate Republican candidates like Christie and Kasich, Trump is simply taking up too much of the political oxygen right now to give Fiorina any breathing room. Barring an implosion on his part (and it’s hard to see what more he can say to provoke one!) Fiorina is likely to continue struggling for the much-touted second or third-place ticket out of New Hampshire. History is not kind to second acts in American politics, and it may be that Fiorina’s fall polling surge came a couple months too early. This makes the remaining three debate performances before the Iowa caucus all the more crucial to her candidacy. While she remains a longshot to win the Republican nomination, strong debate performances might boost her polling support and electoral performance and perhaps, eventually, put her in line for a cabinet or other administrative position (U.S. Trade Representative? Commerce?) in a Republican administration or maybe even someone’s vice presidential candidate. She said more than once during last night’s event that she was uniquely suited to defeating Hillary Clinton – a point that her staff made to me as well after her speech. Let’s see if the eventual Republican nominee believes that to be true. Meanwhile, like a bevy of other Republican candidates, she soldiers on, another player in this uniquely American electoral spectacle that is the 2016 race for the presidency in New Hampshire.

Notes from the Campaign Trail: Why Won’t These Candidates Quit?

Two nights ago the Vermont and New Hampshire Republican Party county committees held a joint fundraiser in Lebanon, N.H. featuring many of the Republican presidential candidates or their representatives and, as part of my ongoing series chronicling the presidential campaign, your intrepid blogger shelled out $35 to attend the candidate forum. Since the event was titled the “2015 Connecticut River Run,” I initially thought the candidates might be running a road race, and the prospect of seeing a red-faced Chris Christie in spandex, barreling down the finish line while knocking aside Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and the other candidates like so many ten pins, seemed well worth the price of admission. Alas, this turned out to be a much more staid event held indoors at the local Elks Club. A big elk head stood hanging behind the speaker’s podium, unblinking, evidently hanging on every word, which provided a nice backdrop as the candidates made their pitch. (My biggest twitter reaction all night was in response to my tweet calling the elk a moose head.)



Only about 50-70 people attended (including Vermont Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott), most of them middle-aged or older, so we were able to get good seats (sitting alongside Vermont gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne who is as low-key and unpretentious in person as he seems on television) at a table near the front of the hall, where I chowed down on lobster rolls and finger food while live tweeting the event.  Here are my notes from the event.

As I have noted in previous posts, several Republican candidates have staked their hopes on doing well in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation’s primary. For many of them, the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino has given them an opportunity to highlight their more hawkish foreign policy views in the hope that national security issues will become increasingly relevant in the campaign. With only two months left before the primary, however, their opportunities to make an impression with New Hampshire voters are dwindling, and so even smaller events like this draw candidates – particularly those in the second tier who are struggling to gain traction. Not surprisingly, then, the candidates who made personal appearances included Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and George Pataki – all of whom are polling in single digits (or lower!) in the Granite State. The rest of the Republican hopefuls had surrogates making pitches on their behalf. Here is the latest aggregate polling averages for the New Hampshire Republican primary:

The format was simple: each candidate (or their surrogate) had up to 15 minutes to make their case before yielding the podium to the next in line. You might think that with only 15 minutes to talk, one wouldn’t learn much about the candidates, but instead the need to boil their candidacy down to its essential features proved quite useful. With no time to spare, each candidate was forced to focus on what they thought was their strongest selling point.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, introduced by his sister Darlene, led off the proceedings. After complimenting Vermont Republicans who attended for their “political courage” living in a heavily blue state, and then taking a brief shot at the way the media used national polling to influence their coverage of the race (Graham has been excluded from the top debate stage due to low national polling numbers) he proceeded to launch into his signature issue – the need to put 5,000 U.S. ground troops into Iraq to defeat ISIL. Graham has moderated his hawkish foreign policy tendencies a bit – he now emphasizes that most of the fighting will be done by a much larger Arab ground force (90% of the coalitional forces) led by Americans, and that U.S. troops will not remain once ISIL is defeated. Still, he is clearly hoping the recent terrorist attack will refocus the campaign on foreign policy issues – particular the fight against ISIL. After briefly reminding the audience that his mother could not have raised their family without government assistance, Graham concluded by referencing his humble roots, asking rhetorically, “Can a person who grew up behind a bar become President of the United States? I don’t know!” I’ve said it before – Graham is an underappreciated candidate, one who deserves a more prominent platform than the media has given him to date, but at this point one wonders whether he is really angling for an appointment in the next Republican administration as Secretary of Defense.

If you want to know why Jeb! Bush’s candidacy is struggling, last night’s presentation by his surrogate, former U.S. Attorney General Mike Mukasey, provided some clues. Mukasey was introduced as someone who New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer thought would make a good Supreme Court justice.  That prompted Mukasey to spend the first part of his speech explaining why Schumer would push Mukasey’s name for the highest court in the land. That vignette might have been interesting if Mukasey was running for President, but he’s not – at least I don’t think he is. When he finally got around to discussing Jeb!, he did so in such a low-key tone that you might have thought he was describing what he had for breakfast. It was a decidedly unimpressive presentation, made more so when Ohio Governor John Kasich, not even bothering to stop and remove his jacket, dashed in, grabbed the microphone and proceed to give a much more animated and folksy presentation. Kasich, adopting the role of Pastor-in-Chief, eschewed discussing policy to speak instead on the importance of having meaning in life and how the lack of such meaning is fueling both the growing drug addiction among the young and the ability of ISIL to recruit disaffected Muslims. “I know it’s not a good political speech,” Kasich acknowledged, but he attributed his spiritual focus to the Christmas season. (Each table was festooned with a poinsettia centerpiece, which the organizers then forced us to buy in order to exit the premises; my wife charitably forked over the $5 extortion fee to set us free.)

Former New York Governor George Pataki, dressed as always in jacket and tie, gave probably the most energized speech of the night, one that drew a rare round of applause from a crowd that for the most part seemed content to sit on its hands. More than anyone else on the dais, Pataki used the San Bernardino attack as a talking point to buttress his belief that the country needs to declare war on ISIL, and he repeatedly linked the recent terrorist attack to 9-11 which occurred while he was Governor of New York. “We must attack them there,” he thundered, “or they will attack us here.” His talk was sprinkled with references to radical Islam and at one point he dared Attorney General Lynch to prosecute him for using those words – a line that drew cheers from the audience. Pataki advocated shutting down internet sites that actively encourage terrorism and doing the same to community settings, including mosques, that preach violence. He mentioned that he has two sons serving in the military, and thus appreciates what it means to send soldiers to war. Pataki was the only candidate who took questions. When asked about how to deal with arrogant bureaucrats in Washington DC, he said he would get rid of them, citing as precedent his actions shrinking state government as New York’s Governor. In response to a second question regarding how to deal with Russia’s presence in the Syria, he said he would work with Turkey to set up a no-fly zone.

Former Governor Jim Gilmore was scheduled to speak after Pataki and I was curious to see how he would be received. Alas, in what can only be seen as a fitting metaphor for his presidential campaign, Gilmore never showed up, and no one could say where he was. After the Gilmore no show, there came a succession of surrogates representing candidates Rubio, Fiorina, Cruz, Christie, Carson, Trump and Paul. They were an interesting mix. Rubio was represented by Randy Johnson, a former Florida Representative who claimed he knew there was something special about Rubio the moment he met him. Cruz’s representative – former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien – made it clear that Cruz would not compromise his conservative values if elected. Rather than extol her virtues, Fiorina’s spokesman Gene Chandler (another former NH House Speaker) directed listeners to her website which lists the six objectives of her campaign. Trump’s surrogate, Fred Ducette (I hope I have his name correctly spelled) apologized for not being a politician and also for feeling too ill to speak at length. After fumbling to make the microphone work, he then proceeded to list Trump’s virtues – “He’s beholden to no one!” – promised that Trump would make America great, and exited. Rand Paul’s representative took the libertarian approach, declining to speak at the podium (he may have been reluctant to touch the microphone after Ducette coughed all over it) and instead offering to meet interested parties in the back of the room. Carson’s surrogate began by noting that the Good Doctor had led a surgical group in a lengthy and ultimately successful effort to separate conjoined twins, so he knew the virtue of teamwork. Only Santorum and Huckabee didn’t bother sending representatives which I expect reflects their realization that their brand of social conservatism is not going to play well in New Hampshire.

Never too shy to express an opinion, Donald Trump has for some weeks now been calling for candidates who are languishing in the polls to drop out of the race, arguing that this will give the real candidates more time on stage to make their case. I understand The Donald’s point. But there is something to admire in candidates like Graham and Pataki, both of whom are drawing less than 1% in aggregate polling in New Hampshire, and yet who nonetheless continue to push on, moving from Elks Lodge to Legion Hall to public library, crisscrossing the state to passionately make the case for why they should be elected President. It may be that at this point they are running for something else – a cabinet post, or a television talk show – rather than the presidency. Whatever their motivation, and however unrealistic their chances at winning, there is still some virtue in having them out there, making their case and discussing the issues in person to the voters. New Hampshire offers a unique opportunity for voters to meet so many of these candidates before they are winnowed. Graham captured this sentiment, I think, when he told the audience why keeping New Hampshire’s primary first in the nation is so important: “It’s the last best chance for democracy to work at the local level.” That may be somewhat melodramatic (and politically self-serving too!) But where else can you shake hands with a potential president of the United States, and bring home a slice of Presidential Political Americana in the process?


Tales From the Campaign Trail: Can Christie Come Back In New Hampshire?

It is hard to remember, but four years ago many Republicans (and pundits), concerned about what they viewed as Mitt Romney’s lackluster candidacy and a generally weak Republican field, were imploring New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to enter their party’s presidential race.  Christie demurred, claiming that he was not yet ready for a presidential run.  As late as November, 2013, however, polls still showed him leading the field of prospective 2016 Republican candidates. Now that Christie has thrown his hat in the ring, however, it’s not clear that voters are ready for him. Despite what many observers saw as a strong performance in the last Republican debate, Christie continues to lag in national polls, and last week Fox News announced that he had been relegated to the kiddie debate table, along with Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee, for the next Republican debate night.

Like many struggling candidates, including John Kasich, Lindsey Graham and Jeb!, Christie appears to have staked his candidacy on a strong showing in New Hampshire, a state he has visited 31 times, more than any other candidate to date.  There is some evidence that his persistence is paying off – although he continues to draw single-digit support in Granite State polling, the most recent poll there shows Christie climbing into 5th place, with 8% support, the highest he has been there for some time.

Is this the sign of a Christie comeback? As part of our continuing campaign coverage, your intrepid blogger attended Christie’s campaign event held yesterday at the Salt Hill Pub in Hanover, New Hampshire, part of Christie’s #TellingItLikeItIs campaign tour. It was a standing room only audience, which I estimated at about 200 people, many of them college students, who crammed into the pub. The cramped quarters lent an air of intimacy to the event that stood in stark contrast to the more rock star feel that characterized the Sanders’ event I attended last week in nearby Lebanon. Fortunately, by luck of the draw, I was positioned about 10 feet from the candidate throughout the event. (Unfortunately, the student next to me appeared to be suffering from monstrous nasal congestion and a deep-rooted lung condition. But this is what I endure to bring you the story.)

Christie arrived wearing a dark jacket with matching tie over his white dress shirt, but he shed the jacket during the Q&A session which took up most of the nearly hour-and-a-half long event. Before answering questions, however, he opened with a brief but heartfelt vignette about a former drug addict who went through rehab, rather than being jailed for drug possession, and who as a result recovered to reclaim his life. “Everybody makes bad choices,” he noted. “My mother was addicted to cigarettes…but when she was diagnosed with lung cancer, no one came and said ‘Don’t treat her, she got what she deserved!’” Christie’s point is that more resources should be expended targeting treatment and recovery of addicts rather than putting them in jail.

The issue of drug addiction has become a familiar talking point for Christie on the campaign trail, and this video based on Christie’s approach regarding how to treat drug addiction have received more than a million seven million online views.  It is evident he cares deeply about the issue, but it’s not entirely clear to me why he has opted to make it the centerpiece of his New Hampshire campaign. It is true that New Hampshire, like my home state of Vermont, is suffering from a rise in opiate addiction, fueled by an influx of cheap heroin. But polls suggest New Hampshire voters view national security and the economy as more important issues.  Nonetheless it may be that Christie sees an opening to position himself as the party’s “compassionate conservative”, in contrast to the more conservative social views espoused by some of his party rivals.

After this brief opening statement, Christie took about a dozen questions from what appeared to be a generally friendly crowd, albeit one that showed less dyed-in-the-wool partisanship than, say, a Sanders crowd. The topics ranged from how to deal with the Chinese island-building effort in the South China sea – “I’d fly Air Force One over the islands” – to Obamacare – (Repeal it and turn health care over to the states) – to Dodd-Frank (repeal it for small community banks and allow states to regulate them). On the environment, in contrast to many of his Republican rivals, Christie believes that global climate change is driven in part by human activity, and he supports efforts to reduce global carbon emissions using alternative energy sources – but not through cap-and-trade policies. In this vein, he touted New Jersey’s heavy reliance on nuclear power (“Fifty-three percent of our electricity is produced by nuclear power”) and solar energy (“New Jersey is in the top three solar states, behind California and Arizona”) while trying to phase out coal-powered plants. Christie says each state must adopt the mix of energy sources that works best for them in combating climate change (“Iowa should emphasize wind turbines.”) But he acknowledged that reducing carbon emissions is a global problem and emphasized the need to work with the Chinese on this issue, although he was notably short on specifics regarding how he might do so. When asked about increasing funding for space exploration, Christie used the question as an opportunity to cite the need for reforming entitlement programs which he said consumes more than 70% of the federal budget. “I’m sorry, but until we tackle this issue, I’m not going to be increasing money on the space program.” On campaign finance, Christie says he would allow unlimited direct contributions to candidates, but make sure they were posted for full transparency online within 24 hours.

When it came to foreign policy, Christie generally took a much more hardline approach than on domestic affairs. When asked how he would deal with the Syrian war, he recommended imposing a no-fly zone. “Someone asked me what I would do if the Russians violated it. I would shoot them down.” They would have been warned, he noted. Later, when asked about how to deal with the Syrian refugee problem he argued that it was caused in part by Obama’s failure to keep his word. “He drew a red line against the use of chemical weapons, then did nothing when Assad crossed it.” Christie called for greater international support, including from the U.S., to help settle refugees, but at the same time he opposed allowing them into the U.S. due to security concerns. When pressed by a college student why we would expect U.S. military involvement in Syria to turn out any better than when the U.S. intervened in Iraq, some of the famous Christie bluster appeared. “What would you do?” he shot back. “Would you let Assad stay in power to murder a quarter million of his people?” The U.S.’s responsibility, he insisted, was to empower the Syrian people to prevent genocide as well as the imposition of an Islamic state. In a line that received perhaps the greatest applause of the event, Christie noted somewhat acidly that, “We can talk about American imperialism which is a nice college word…but reality is more nuanced.”

At only one point during the event did Christie’s reputation for bullying critics appear to come close to being validated. A woman asked him to reconcile his views on abortion – Christie is pro-life, but with exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother – with his support of capital punishment. In an interesting response, he answered that he views capital punishment as a means of defending the state which is the same justification for his pro-life stance which is designed to defend the unborn child. When the woman pressed him by asking what a woman who was impregnated through rape was supposed to do during the many months it might require getting a rape conviction, Christie bristled. “Let’s not get cute here,” he chided the questioner, arguing that forensic evidence would immediately establish evidence for rape and discounting the likelihood that women will falsely claim rape to justify an abortion. “What I’m basically saying here is that we need to take the woman’s word.” To be clear, Christie softened his tone near the end of the exchange, and the woman thanked him for his response.

When asked about dealing with Congress as president, Christie again used the question to take several shots at Obama. While characterizing Congress as a “den of vipers”, Christie pointed out that dealing with the New Jersey legislature wasn’t “an Easter egg hunt.” He cited three keys to working with an opposition legislature. First, he stressed the need to speak clearly in emphasizing priorities. “You can’t be everything to everyone.” Second, he cited the importance of developing a good personal working relationship with legislative leaders. Here he chided Obama for waiting almost seven years to invite House Republican leader and later Speaker John Boehner on Air Force One: “If I was president and Nancy Pelosi was Speaker, I’d have her on the plane whenever she wanted.” Finally, he noted the importance of acting decisively when tackling problems, again contrasting his position with Obama’s actions: “I wouldn’t have taken seven years to make a decision on the Keystone Pipeline.”

Near the end of the session he had a chance to show his softer side when he was asked by an 11-year old girl how he would improve education. He stressed the need for parental involvement and a greater incorporation of technology: “Every student should have an IPad.” He would eliminate tenure for public school teachers in grade K-12 – “No one ever got fired for their views on algebra!” – and work to get rid of underperforming teachers. Here he blamed teachers unions for blocking educational reform. He finished by telling the girl how important it was for her to do her best, even on days when she might not feel like doing her homework, noting that “I have those days too!”

It is clear that Christie is trying to stake out a position as a social moderate in an attempt to differentiate himself from many of his more conservative Republican rivals. But he is not averse to taking a hardline policy stance on many issues, particularly in foreign policy. It remains to be seen how this will play out in New Hampshire. In this vein his biggest rivals may be Jeb! and Kasich, two other big-state governors who have relatively moderate positions among Republicans on social issues, but who are also adopting a “get tough” foreign policy. But in contrast to both of their more laid back demeanors, Christie exudes a brashness and edge that many in yesterday’s audience seemed to appreciate, although one person did question whether that temperament was most conducive to dealing with foreign leaders. Christie’s response was classic: “I have a lot of clubs in my bag. When the media covers me they usually focus on when I use my driver. But when I get close to a policy objective, I can use the pitching wedge.”

At this point, about 100 days before the New Hampshire primary, the race for the Republican nomination is still on the front nine. New Hampshire voters are notoriously slow in making up their minds, and there is some evidence that the process is even more glacial this electoral cycle due to the large number of candidates camped out in the Granite State. It remains to be seen whether Christie can pull off the political equivalent of a hole-in-one. But I, for one, hope he stays in the race for the duration, if for no other reason than to watch him take that uniquely Christie golf swing. Cue the driver!