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Rand Paul, Chris Christie Show Contrasting Styles in N.H.

Rand Paul, Chris Christie Show Contrasting Styles in N.H.

By Scott Conroy - September 19, 2014

NASHUA, NH. -- Inside the crowded confines of Crosby's Bakery here on Wednesday afternoon, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did what he does best when on the campaign trail: He schmoozed.   

“Good to see you, Marie,” Christie said to one woman.

“Happy to be back,” he told another. 

Stumping alongside New Hampshire’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Walt Havenstein, for the third time in three months, Christie back-slapped, small-talked and bear-hugged his way around the room with Clintonian ease.  

He signed autographs, posed for photos, and -- through no fault of his own -- completely overshadowed the mild-mannered candidate whom he was ostensibly there to promote.  

At a press conference in the bakery’s kitchen a few minutes later, Christie made amends for that, too.  

“I’m here to let you know this is a dead-heat race now,” he said of Havenstein’s uphill battle against incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan. “Polling now obviously has this as a dead heat, which is exactly what I thought the case would be in the middle of September.” 

Actually, polling shows the race to be far from a dead heat. Every public survey conducted since April, including two that were released within the last week, has showed Havenstein trailing Hassan by a double-digit margin.  

But ever the optimist in his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie vowed that the RGA is going to spend “a lot” of money on the challenger’s campaign over the next few weeks.  

Havenstein couldn’t have asked for a better surrogate, as he stood silently and let his guest handle every last question that was asked at the press conference.  

“When I first spoke to Walt, I could tell this is a guy who’s extraordinarily bright, very earnest, and had a vision and a plan for the future of New Hampshire,” Christie said. “Those are the elements you really need to be a credible candidate, especially in New Hampshire.” 

With Havenstein’s campaign now basking in that rose-colored hue, there was little need to get into many specifics, and Christie was soon out the door.  

In total, the New Jersey governor spent less than 15 minutes in the bakery and even held firm to a health regimen -- which clearly has been working -- when he declined to sample any of the goodies on display.   

As his earpiece-wearing security detail led him back to a waiting SUV, Christie decided to offer up one last photo opportunity before heading on his way.  

With the two men now standing outside the bakery, Christie pulled Havenstein aside and began chatting with him one-on-one, a green dumpster service the unlikely backdrop for their impromptu powwow.  As the press swarm approached, an aide asked the assembled journalists to give the two politicians some room, explaining that this was a “private meeting.”

If the back-alley summit indeed was intended as such, it was an unlikely time and place for one, especially considering that the two men had only minutes earlier been together for a fundraiser, which was closed to the press. If they really wanted privacy, they could have talked shop then.  

But this was part of the show.  

As news photographers snapped their shots, Christie clenched his fists for emphasis as he gave his genial protégé a final pep talk.  

Here was a fighter, Christie appeared determined to demonstrate, someone who isn’t going to quit just because the odds look tough.  

With Christie likely to launch his widely expected 2016 presidential bid early next year, his image-driven style of campaigning was on full display in the early voting state that figures to be essential to his White House hopes.  

His method of campaigning contrasted sharply with the one that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul -- a likely GOP rival in the next New Hampshire primary -- employed when he made his latest trip to the state a few days earlier.  

While Christie has used the force of his personality to begin paving the way for a presidential run here, Paul has instead leaned on the salience of his ideas rather than his charisma.  

Like Christie, Paul has made three separate trips to the Granite State so far this year, and both men are already planning to return later this fall.  

But that’s about where the similarities end.

While Christie exuded a natural comfort with retail politicking, Paul seemed distinctly less at ease with the pleasantry-exchanging banter inherent in campaigning in the nation’s ninth smallest state (by population). 

It’s not that Paul is particularly awkward in one-on-one conversations. It’s just that he has a tendency to across as somewhat aloof. 

But with an experienced team of advisers already on the ground in New Hampshire, the Kentucky senator is making a concerted effort to improve his style and has been well-served by his decision to travel without the intrusive suit-and-tie-clad-entourage that voters here tend to disdain. 

Christie pumped up his crowds with brief, declarative praise for Havenstein’s “vision” and “plan for the future of New Hampshire.” He added that Senate candidate Scott Brown “cares about the issues” and “knows how to get things done.”   

Paul, on the other hand, takes a more analytical approach to his speechifying and tends to keep his remarks focused on the nation at large, rather than what’s going on specifically in New Hampshire.    

“The worst thing this president has done is to run roughshod over the separation of powers,” he said in one of the biggest applause lines he received last Friday night at a speech in Manchester. 

Christie’s approach is rousing and direct; Paul’s is cerebral and philosophical. Take how they answer the inevitable questions about their 2016 plans.  

For Christie, Jersey-style brusqueness has been the preferred approach. 

“I don’t look past November, buddy, so maybe phrase your question differently and you’ll get a different answer,” he said in response to an inquiry from a reporter that he cut off in mid-sentence.

Paul, though still somewhat coy, was far more forthcoming when asked about his decision-making process.  

“We really haven’t finally decided,” he said in an interview with RCP. “My wife is not completely convinced of it. And some of it is that things can change. Within six months, will we still be in a position, through national surveys, that people think we can compete? Will there be a reason why we couldn’t? So I think you have to wait a little while until you get closer to the season of campaigning for that office.” 

New Hampshire figures to be hospitable terrain for both men, should they run for president next year.   

For Christie, the state offers an abundance of Republican centrists in his mold, and the regional and culture kinship he has with many of them shouldn’t be discounted. Though he may root for the Mets instead of the Red Sox, Christie speaks the patois of the northeast.  

As for Paul, the “Live Free or Die” state is chock-full of libertarian-leaning Republicans and independents who offer crossover potential for him (they can vote in either primary).

According to the latest RealClearPolitics average of 2016 polls, Paul and Christie currently lead the hypothetical field of GOP candidates in New Hampshire with 13.5 percent and 13.0 percent of the vote, respectively.

The extent to which they are able to improve and refine their approaches to campaigning here figures to go a long way toward determining their fates in a finicky state on which their prospects may hinge.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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