Win or Lose, Christie and Kasich Poured Their Hearts into N.H.

Feb 5, 2016

Victory in the New Hampshire Primary is usually counted in one way:  the candidate with the most vote wins.

But there’s another measure of primary success, something less tangible than vote totals: How long, and intensely, does a candidate woo New Hampshire voters?

The clear winners in that race this year are Republicans Chris Christie and John Kasich.

Every four years when presidential candidates storm New Hampshire, they tell voters how much love they have for the Granite State.

But passion can be fleeting, as candidates bounce between New Hampshire and other states.  Few actually dig roots here over the course of a campaign. Kasich and Christie are the exceptions this year.

No other candidates have spent as much time in New Hampshire this campaign. Christie has hosted nearly 70 town halls and Kasich will mark his one hundredth tonight in Bedford.

Both men are counting on strong finishes here – so much so that Kasich told voters at a town hall in Portsmouth that his candidacy depends on them.

“But look here is the simple fact of the matter if I don’t get elected president I am going to blame all of you in this room," he said with a chuckle. "So, therefore all of you in this room have to support me - end of story."

On Tuesday John Kasich hosted his 95th town hall in New Hampshire. On Friday he'll mark his one hundredth.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

And when Christie spoke to the New Hampshire Legislature last month, he offered a warm thank you to the state as a whole for welcoming him over the course of the campaign.

“I cannot on behalf of myself and my wife Mary Pat thank you enough for the courtesy and the kindness and openness that you and all of the people of New Hampshire have shown to us over the past nine months,” Christie told lawmakers.

Of course, putting in the time on the ground in New Hampshire is nothing new for presidential candidates. And both Kasich and Christie are modeling their efforts on the master of this approach: Sen. John McCain. His tireless retail politicking across the state, and the relationship with the electorate that resulted, led him to victories here in 2000 and 2008.

McCain remains so smitten with the state, he returned last summer to campaign for his friend Lindsey Graham who eventually dropped out of the race.

Sen. John McCain (left) campaigns for South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (right) in Manchester, August 1, 2015.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

“I am slightly emotionally because some of the most wonderful experiences of my life have been here in New Hampshire – I have grown to love the people of New Hampshire,” McCain told a crowd in Manchester.

While both Kasich and Christie remain well off the lead in state polls, there have been other tangible benefits from their romance with New Hampshire.

Christie has raked in more than 200 state endorsements including the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House. Meanwhile Kasich has earned the backing of eight of the state’s 10 newspapers.

Their connection with voters here have also allowed them talk about issues in more personal ways. In Derry on Wednesday, Kasich reached out to a mother whose son is battling a heroin addiction.

“If you want me to – forget all the politics. I will call your son," he said as the room went silent. "OK. I will call your son and I will talk to him if you think it will help,” Kasich told Lynn blank as tears streamed down her face.

Christie also makes a point of discussing New Hampshire’s opioid epidemic at campaign stops.

Gov. Chris Christie of N.J. talks with local officials and advocates at Webster House, a drug treatment center in Franklin.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

This awareness of local concerns impresses Howard Williams, former mayor of Dover. 

“He didn’t come here knowing that there was this big heroin problem, we unfortunately have in New Hampshire. He saw that when he came here and he added that to his views,” Williams said before a Christie town hall event in Dover.

But come Tuesday – win or lose – these candidates will move on.

Christie this week paid his last tab at Murphy’s in Manchester. “And the waitress who has waited on me dozens of times since the summer she was like ‘gosh this is the last week.  After this week I’m not going to see you for a while now?'" Christie said of the waitress. "I’m like yeah this is our last week - yes it is.”

And although it’s pretty clear Christie and Kasich love New Hampshire a little more than the rest, they’ll find out on Tuesday how much the state loves them back.