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Chris Christie takes Newton

Posted: October 26, 2015 | By: Sarah LeBlanc Tagged: From the Campaign Trail
Chris Christie

Republican Chris Christie visits the Raceway Cafe in Newton on Oct. 21. Photo by Sarah LeBlanc.

I’ve lived in Iowa for just under two years, and in that time I can count the towns and cities I’ve visited on one hand. On Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015 (a.k.a. the day Marty McFly visited 2015, the land of flying cars and hoverboards), however, I added Newton as the sixth town on my tally and saw New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speak at a small cafe/restaurant.

Located just a couple of miles off Interstate 80, the Raceway Cafe was filled with white, older men with a few white, college-aged men and women scattered into the mix. Given that it was 1:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, the size of the crowd surprised me, but in fitting with the trend of Jasper County, which houses Newton, the demographic didn’t. Almost 20 percent of the county’s population is over the age of 65, and 96 percent of the its population is white. And while the once-closed, now-reopened establishment might look just a little bit sketchy from the outside, but on the inside it has this nice retro feel that gives you hope that it just might stay open long enough to host another presidential candidate in the next four years.

When I entered the cafe with another Iowa Caucus Project team member, we shuffled behind the bar and were almost immediately engaged in conversation by a man with a notebook. He just asked us typical questions, like if we lived in Newton, were we journalists or Christie supporters (to which we said no, not yet and an internal “no” but a verbal “uh…”), and kept talking to us for around five minutes. I was pretty positive he was on the Christie campaign, but he said he was invited by a friend who worked on the campaign and apparently was just that friendly. One could even say he was Iowa Nice.

And the friendliness didn’t stop there, either. When trying to get a picture of Christie from the back of the cafe/restaurant, two greying gentlemen scooted aside and invited me to stand in the middle of them to take pictures and watch the Governor speak. In return for their kindness, I recited the questions patrons asked because one of the men forgot his hearing aid. And in return for my kindness, I got to listen to the two men talk about how they believed Christie was being too lenient on immigrants and since they broke the law in getting here, we should send them back. Because it’s that easy and completely morally right. Commence subtle eye-roll.

Christie spoke for around 20 minutes and then spent the next hour or so answering questions, which is by far the largest amount of time I’ve seen dedicated by any candidate to the public’s inquiries. After complimenting a woman’s earrings and telling his staff to oust the awkward microphone handling (something that displeased the man next to me), it almost seemed like Christie was pandering to the crowd a little too obviously. At around the hour and a half mark (a half hour longer than the event was supposed to last), a woman stepped toward the front of the room and raised her hand, one among many, to ask the governor a question. After being called on, she proceeded to ask about his position on marijuana and if he supports the drug’s legalization. However, it didn’t end there. In a technique called bird-dogging, the woman, with an iPhone held by a supporter recording at her side, repeatedly interrupted Christie in an effort to get him to make a clear statement as to whether or not he supports the legalization of marijuana. Below is a clip of Christie’s passionate response and some bickering by Christie supporters for your exclusive enjoyment.

I’ll admit, the majority of events I’ve attended have been those of Democratic candidates. The few Republican candidates I’ve seen speak were at the Iowa State Fair this past summer, from Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum at the Des Moines Register Soapbox to passing Donald Trump and Jeb Bush on the crowded Grand Avenue. In comparison to these candidates, who are often seen as strictly conservative, Christie has been called a moderate Republican (a title he apparently resents).

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, Christie’s extensive and thorough responses to each question he was asked showed commitment and dedication to his candidacy and the issues at the heart of his campaign. Frankly, the amount of information he must have memorized to give such detailed answers impressed me. If he wins the nomination and goes on against Clinton (the only candidate he referenced in his tirades), you can bet I’ll be watching to make sure he never says anything that goes against what he once spoke of at these small, not-insignificant town hall meetings. If changing her mind is the worst he has against Hillz, he’s got nothing in common with the majority of the American public.