WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The event was designed to advance the campaign of Mitt Romney, but it couldn’t have been less Romney-esque. There were hecklers, confrontations with the audience, and plenty of references to . . . New Jersey, and its governor, Chris Christie.
The Garden State governor was the evening’s headliner at a campaign event for Romney, whom Christie has endorsed for the presidential nomination. But within minutes of Christie’s entrance on a stage at the headquarters of Kum & Go, an Iowa-based gas station and convenience store chain, protesters took over the room, commandeering a microphone and surrounding Christie.
“Mic Check: Mitt Romney and Chris Christie serve the corporate 1 percent,” they chanted. “Bust up big banks / make Wall Street pay / Put people first.” The demonstration was quickly quelled and the demonstrators, members of the Occupy Iowa Caucus group, removed. But Christie seemed to enjoy the confrontation, joking that “soon they’ll be working at the Marriott around the corner” and describing his detractors as “disillusioned and disappointed” Obama supporters.
“They believed in this hope and change garbage,” he said. “So I understand they’re angry.”
When he referenced the hecklers again at the end of his remarks, it was as a badge of honor. “If there was a Chris Christie appearance without a YouTube moment,” he said, “we wouldn’t know what to do.”
Christie’s style contrasted sharply with that of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another one of Romney’s big-name surrogates. While Pawlenty, a former presidential rival, largely focuses on talking about Romney, Christie regaled his audience with stories about his background, his opinions and his home state. “I know how to decide and I know how to lead and I know who I am and I know what I want our country to be,” said Christie. He went on to pay homage to Iowa, the state that traditionally casts the first votes of the presidential contest every four years. “Every time I come to Iowa,” Christie said, “I feel inspired because the common sense I feel in New Jersey, I feel out here.”
Though he’s not running for president, Christie once again refused to rule out the No. 2 post on his party’s ticket. Asked if he could be Romney’s running mate, Christie professed no interest in the vice presidential job but added that he would not say “absolutely not” because “I think it’s impolite to say no to something that’s never been offered.”
Christie said he trusts that Romney – who has been publicly called on the carpet by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad for his failure to show up more often in Iowa – is making the right decisions about how he allocates his time before the caucuses. But the governor added: “I hope he spends more time here,” he said.
He insisted he’s not concerned about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich surge in the latest Iowa polls. “Lots of people are surging in the polls out there,” said Christie, naming three who have seen their once promising numbers collapse. “I wasn’t concerned about Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain or Rick Perry either. Mitt Romney is the steady, mature leader we need for our party and for our country."
His brash campaign style was in such contrast to Romney's that he was asked if he had any advice for the former Massachusetts governor. “Whatever advice I have for Mitt I give to Mitt," Christie said.