GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) – If Chris Christie runs for president, there’s little doubt people will see plenty of the town halls the New Jersey governor is known for. That anything-goes format is his comfort zone, and voters tend to like it.
Christie spent hours answering questions at two town hall-style events during the past week in South Carolina – one planned, the other an impromptu session in the back room of a bar. He'll be doing the same in Iowa in the days ahead.
These get-togethers “are something that I’ve been doing for a long time in New Jersey,” Christie told the crowd at Tommy’s Country Ham House in Greenville.
To be precise, he’s done 138 such events, most in New Jersey. He said he will do many more.
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Christie’s aptitude for answering questions on the fly pleases his audiences and fits well in states such as New Hampshire where voters expect close-up interaction, repeatedly, from presidential candidates. But that tradition is less robust in South Carolina and elsewhere, where advertising and organization count for more.
Christie says he will decide this month whether to run for the 2016 Republican nomination.
“Just walking into a space and holding a town hall is not something we typically have,” said Leighton Lord, a college friend of Christie who lives in South Carolina and has been acting as his liaison. “He’s much, much more likable when people see him in person than the way he’s portrayed nationally.”
Gloria Roberts, among the more than 200 people at the ham house, called Christie “extremely impressive and I believe he does what he says.”
Roberts, 69, a retired software company who lives in nearly Piedmont, said she was “totally going in another direction” before she heard Christie speak. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had topped her list of 2016 favorites.
Ninety minutes later, that had changed.
Christie “makes you feel like you can believe in the government,” she said. “He makes you feel strong and safe.”
Some remained skeptical.
Gary Abbe, 61, a chiropractor who describes himself as a fiscal and social conservative, praised Christie for his honesty and for taking unfiltered questions.
“Doesn’t mean he’s in my top five,” said Abbe, who prefers Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
South Carolina has changed in recent decades, with an influx of voters from states such as Ohio and New Jersey, especially along the state’s coast, GOP officials say. Plus, there’s a large military presence.
“A lot of folks feel like South Carolina is strictly the social conservative vote and that’s really not the case,” said Eaddy Willard, chairman of the Richland County Republicans. He hosted Christie’s meet-and-greet event at the Liberty Tap Room, which turned into a freewheeling 90-minute session.
Christie apparently lost track of time. He wound up late for a private meeting with Gov. Nikki Haley and another event.
GOP consultant Chip Felkel, who worked for George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, said Christie lags behind GOP rivals in setting up an operation in South Carolina and may “have trouble finding a lane here.”
“I wouldn’t say he’s been forgotten, but he hasn’t been getting a lot of consideration of late,” Felkel said. “He kind of flashed in and flashed out.”
But Robert Cahaly, a political consultant who also is unaffiliated, said Christie might find himself in the top three or four in South Carolina if he spends enough time and money.
“He is a household name and his style is an immediate contrast to politics and politicians as usual,” he said. “And in any group this big, it’s about standing out, it’s about zigging when everyone zags. And this guy’s more capable of that than anyone I’ve ever seen.”