In Puebla, Mexico, Christie’s A Celebrity

PUEBLA, Mexico (AP) -

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was greeted on Friday like a celebrity on the final day of his trade mission to Mexico. But the three-day trip is unlikely to change perceptions that the Republican governor needs to establish his foreign policy credentials before he jumps into a potential presidential run.

Christie on Friday left behind the high-end hotels and government offices that had dominated the first two days of his trip and headed east to the city of Puebla. About 40 percent of first- and second-generation Mexican-Americans who live in New Jersey, some 200,000 people, trace their roots to this city.

The governor largely avoided wading into heated policy issues, spending the bulk of his time in Mexico touting New Jersey businesses and new ways the country and state could work together.

Christie received a celebrity’s welcome at a local school, where more than 2,000 students waving American, Mexican and New Jersey flags packed the bleachers of an outdoor field. Kindergarteners lined the governor’s path to the school, and he greeted the students as he passed, crouching down to shake their hands, sharing fist bumps and gently touching their shoulders and heads.

As Christie took his place in a special box above the field, the children broke into excited shrieks. Dozens of older students then treated him to a lengthy performance that included historical reenactments, dances and a marching band that sported sombreros.

Christie, who has seemed far more reserved on the trip than his usual brash persona, said he was overwhelmed by the reception.

Moreno Valle said the teachers, students and parents who had gathered didn’t know Christie’s name before his visit, but they have many friends and family members who live in the U.S.

“You can see how interested people are — kids and the parents — in having a good relationship with the United States and with New Jersey because they know that a lot of family members or people they know have migrated to the U.S., and they appreciate a U.S. governor taking the time to come here and to visit us,” he said.

Christie’s trip has had many of the trappings of a campaign, with a traveling press corps, motorcades and jam-packed schedule. At a news conference in a park near the governor’s residence overlooking the city of Puebla, Christie downplayed the similarities.

“Well, first I want to assure the governor I’m not running for anything in Mexico. So campaigning here would be kind of foolish,” he said.