In the middle of a crowd at a brick-walled bar in Dover, Chris Christie is at ease, charming several hundred New Hampshire voters, when he decides to take a final question.
In an instant, the mood changes as Eileen Sahagian, raised in New Jersey, tells the governor of her native state she was “beyond horrified” by the role his aides are accused of playing in creating traffic jams to punish a mayor.
“I’m worried about having a president who has people around him who think that that’s okay,” she said.
Moments like the one last week with Sahagian at the bar in Dover illustrate the challenge before him. Republicans and independents in New Hampshire appear drawn to Christie’s brash personality and early forays into policy. But while most are dismissive of what they call the “bridge thing,” many are skeptical he can ever get past it.
“I think he’s great. Talk about gutsy. He’s the first guy that’s actually told us how he’s going to save Social Security and Medicare,” said Jack Balcom, a state representative from Merrimack, after seeing Christie at a diner.
Balcom said he didn’t know why reporters keep bringing up the scandal. But when asked whether Christie has a chance of winning the GOP nomination, his take on the matter changed.
“He’s not going to be the nominee, for sure,” Balcom said. “We’ve got a lot of other good candidates and you know, Christie does have that baggage with the bridge, unfortunately.”
Judy McGuane, an independent who lives in Hampton, said Christie won her over after she saw him at one of his most recent stops.
“That might be the one that does him in and that would be too bad. Because he’s obviously got a great deal to offer. And his policies? Excellent, excellent policies!” McGuane said. “It would be a shame if that derailed him.”