EXETER, N.H. — He came to New Hampshire to help Mitt Romney conclude his argument that he offers the most hope to a beleaguered nation, but for Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), the emotion of the day was anger.
Playing bad cop to Romney’s happy warrior as Romney fended off escalating attacks from his Republican rivals, Christie said the real target was President Obama, whom he called the most pessimistic man to ever occupy the Oval Office.
“You listen to him, he sounds angry. I have a little suggestion for the president: He doesn’t do angry well,” said the man who has built a national brand out of his brash and straight-talking approach to public leadership.
“He’s saying if you’re not satisfied with your own piece of the pie, and you think the man next to you has a bigger piece, he says ‘I have a solution for you,’ ” Christie said. The solution: Spread the pie around.
But while most of the hundreds who found their way to this New Hampshire high school fervently embraced the message, it drew the ire of Occupy Wall Street protesters, who have become as frequent a sight at Romney’s campaign events as campaign signs and video cameras.
“Christie kills jobs,” shouted one woman near the back of the gymnasium.
“Really?” Christie snapped back, dripping with irony. “You know, somebody’s going down tonight, and it ain’t going to be jobs, sweetheart.”
Lest New Hampshire voters be spooked by the let-loose oratory of the governor from New Jersey, this is standard fare for Christie, whose town halls often draw boisterous crowds and raucous opposition.
But it’s hard to fathom a scenario under which threatening a fellow citizen — even in jest — helps in a presidential campaign where many voters say they are already nauseous from the barrage of negative attacks.
Romney, too, was interrupted by hecklers, and pivoted to his boilerplate rejoinder about the beauty of free speech in the United States. His security detail quickly escorted out all they could identify, but twice more, Romney was halted by chants of “Mitt kills jobs.”
“Let’s hear a cheer,” Romney said, imploring his supporters to drown out the opposition. And they did.
Yet with each successive disruption, it became more and more difficult for Romney to continue unfazed and dismiss the fact that while he might hold an unambiguous lead over his Republican rivals in New Hampshire, his economic message falls far short of universal appeal.
“One of the things that concerns me is that number over there,” Romney said, gesturing to a giant screen showing an ever-increasing tally of the nation’s debt: approximately $15.2 trillion. “This is one example of his failure,” he said of the president.
But with his foes on both the left and right ramping up their aggression toward Romney’s claims to be a prolific creator of American jobs, and with poll numbers showing his edge is waning, the emphatic vote of confidence from New Jersey’s moderate, pro-business governor was exactly the closing argument Romney hoped to put before voters.
“New Hampshire: Everyone is watching you,” Christie said. “Send a strong message back.”