Mark Chiusano is a member of the Newsday and amNew York editorial board.
NASHUA, N.H. - This is New Hampshire, the mecca for political pageantry, particularly this week.
Gov. Chris Christie’s “Tell It Like It Is” bus cruised into Nashua Community College Monday night, for his second New Hampshire event of the evening. Most of his rivals for the GOP presidential nod were still in Iowa.
The bus took wide turns through the parking lot, zeroing in on its goal — the college’s automotive building.
It was a fitting setting for a campaign event, with the New Jersey governor surrounded by rotary lifts and blue exhaust pipes, tools used to instruct students, put them on the path to good, necessary and stable jobs. The room has played host to four White House hopefuls this season — Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, and now Christie — but no Democrats, yet. Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed a crowd on the college grounds, but in a lecture hall. Tuesday morning, Hillary and Bill Clinton took over the gym.
Everyone does their events a little differently, and rarely is Christie accused of subtlety. With Bon Jovi blasting, the garage door slowly rolled up and the “Tell It Like It Is” bus drove directly into the building itself. Christie and his wife waved from the front, as the crowd cheered.
Christie disembarked. “The next president and first lady,” a supporter shouted. Then she sat down. “He looks tired,” she said to her neighbor.
He did look tired, and as he stumps, he explained that he’d been up since 5:10 a.m.
Mic in hand, he asked whether the audience liked his “understated entrance.” He professed to have been surprised by the bus trick, saying his staff told him just before it happened. This launched the first in a series of jokes about his young aides, sometimes hapless but dogged, who now run his life.
It’s possible that the governor actually was surprised. But it turned out that the bus had been there earlier that day. It had been “measured” to make sure it fit, college President Lucille Jordan said, noting that it was the first time in this election cycle at least that the stunt had been attempted. Little on the campaign trail is left to chance, un-orchestrated.
Christie warmed up as the night went on, joking about bobcats, railing against candidates with no executive experience, not to mention a certain current president. He made fun of the near incomprehensibility of Sen. Ted Cruz and Rubio’s Washington speak.
While the governor spoke, enlivening the crowd, Iowa was caucusing.
Before the event ended, the whole race had changed. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley suspended his campaign, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, too. Cruz won the state handily, and Christie was badly trailing.
But in the automotive building, in front of a friendly crowd, Christie still could be president.