N.J. Gov. Chris Christie whipped a GOP-supportive crowd
Although he was campaigning to support N.H. Republican gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne, the ease with which Christie addressed the crowd and later engaged voters in retail-style politicking raised a major question:
Could Christie be back courting first-in-the-nation presidential primary voters the next time Republicans are looking for a candidate?
University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala thinks that based on Christie's visits to the Granite State and Iowa, the bombastic governor is "thinking about 2016."
Should Mitt Romney fail to win the presidency this November, Scala said Christie, who recently keynoted the Republican National Convention, could view himself as the next to inherit the title of moderate Republican standard-bearer previously carried by Romney and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
Romney and McCain won the last two New Hampshire Republican presidential primaries.
in the 2012 GOP presidential primary race and done well against President Barack Obama in the general election.
Amidst rampant speculation about his future, Christie, who was elected New Jersey governor in 2009 over incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, issued a public declaration he would not be seeking the presidency.
Scala said Christie has appeal to New Hampshire voters as a "straight talker," which was something brought up by several people who attended the Atkinson rally.
"He is a straight talker that tells you exactly what he is thinking and I believe people are looking for that kind of candidate," said Salem Selectman Stephen Campbell.
Windham Board of Selectmen Chair Bruce Breton also lauded Christie as a straight talker, calling him a "rising star" and a "reformer."
Salem Republican Gene Bryant said Christie has the right track record to back up his talk and was "one of the best public speakers I have ever seen, and I've seen many, many stump speeches. Listening to him give a speech is like drinking two big cans of Red Bull."
"Chris Christie is Romney with an attitude," said Salem Republican Tom Linehan. "He is less dogmatic and principled than he is practical. On most issues he is more or less moderate which might make him a favorite of the independent voters who can vote in the New Hampshire Primary."
There are some possible drawbacks with Christie. Scala said his personality makes him prone to public outbursts.
"He's done it several times in New Jersey," Scala said. "How it would play here is one thing to consider."
"The more conservative among Republicans would probably look at his views on gun control, global warming, education and illegal immigration with skepticism at best," Linehan said, but added fiscal conservatives would have a "soul mate" in Christie.
Christie isn't the only current governor visiting the Granite State on behalf of Republicans running for office here. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was here earlier this month and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will keynote the state GOP convention in Derry this Saturday.
Could they all be looking forward to presidential runs of their own someday?
"I think it's unusual to have this much Republican talent on the bench," Scala said. "There happens to be a lot of young Republican governors out there touted for future cycles."
Scala said even though Republicans are in the midst of a presidential campaign now, there is "no downside" for prospective candidates to visit New Hampshire now.
"They can come here and meet activists in New Hampshire who could help them in the future," Scala said.
For now, a Christie run for president remains an idea, but one locals appear open to.
"There is no question he would excite many Republican voters," Bryant said.
"Chris Christie would be a formidable candidate for any office he chose to seek," Linehan said. "Ask Jon Corzine."