Christie’s Once Promising White House Hopes in Danger of Ending Tuesday

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Less than 24 hours before polls opened in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, Chris Christie was on bended knee.

It was the first of four town halls the New Jersey governor held on his final day campaigning in the state, and an undecided voter wanted to know more about his plan to reform Social Security. He took a knee in front of her, gave his undivided attention, and won her vote.

Now, as Granite Staters begin casting ballots Tuesday in a primary contest that could dramatically reshape the presidential race, Christie's White House ambitions hinge on the eleventh-hour decisions made by the undecided voters he was never able to directly propose to.

Christie, whose commanding 2013 re-election in a blue state propelled him to the top of the list of Republicans exploring White House bids, may be perilously close to abandoning his presidential run. Most polls have him in sixth place here and in desperate need of a surprise showing to maintain the funding and infrastructure necessary to wage a competitive campaign going forward.

“I just want to do as well I can, so we’ll see,” Christie said Sunday while greeting voters before the Super Bowl at a bar in Manchester. “It’s all jumbled up. There are five of us that could be sitting between second and sixth so we’re just going to work real hard and do whatever we can.”

Christie launched his presidential bid last June, far removed from the days when he had been recruited by prominent GOP donors to make a late entrance into the 2012 race and was considered a top choice to be Mitt Romney's running mate. His most notable blow came shortly after his impressive re-election when it was revealed aides had lanes to the George Washington Bridge closed as an act of political retaliation.

But Christie's brand of retail politics, which initially made him a darling in the Republican party, is still among the strongest in the GOP field. His debate performance in the last showdown before the primary has his campaign holding out hope that the surprise is still in reach. He has told supporters the debate, during which he clashed with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio over his scripted responses, has reset the race.

“What we know is that no one knows what’s going to happen in this race,” Christie said during Monday’s town hall in Hudson, N.H. “Nobody.”

New Hampshire voters notably decide late. Christie equates it to shoppers going to the mall on Christmas Eve with the hope that he is the gift they ultimately decide on.

To succeed Tuesday, he’ll need to hope he reached enough undecided voters like 28-year-old Ashlee Lewer, who attended Christie’s event sure only that she opposed Donald Trump.

“My thought originally was: How am I going to take momentum away from Donald Trump?” Lewer said. “So I thought Rubio was getting enough support at this point to pull the momentum away...But I don’t want to pick the person who is just going to take the momentum away, I want to pick the person I really believe in.”

Lewer, however, acknowledged that others have warned her that a vote for Christie, who is also trailing Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and John Kasich, could lessen the impact of a Trump protest vote.

“I guess what I would say is go and see him,” Lewer said in response to the warnings.

And thousands of New Hampshire voters have had the chance during Christie’s 76 appearances in the state, rivaling the amount of time spent here by Bush and Kasich. But in a unconventional election dominated by Trump, who has spent little time focusing on retail politics and holds a commanding lead in the polls, that still may not be enough.

The sentiment was apparent when Christie wistfully called his time here on the campaign trail “the most extraordinary experience of my life” in his final New Hampshire town hall late Monday.

“I’m confortable to have my fate in your hands,” Christie said. “I’ll tell you one last thing. I’m going to be president of the United States.”