WEST DES MOINES – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, headlining a teeth-chattering outdoor political rally on Friday, jokingly delivered an offer to Iowa GOP caucus-goers that maybe they shouldn’t refuse next Tuesday.
Campaigning with Mitt and Ann Romney at an outdoor West Des Moines venue in rain, wind and near-freezing temperature, Christie told several hundred attendees that the nation is watching Iowa as it starts the process to pick a Republican nominee to challenge Democrat Barack Obama next fall.
““New Jersey’s watching you, too. We’re watching you real closely and so, listen, I want to tell you something, I want to tell you something really clearly,” Christie said during a half-hour stop. “I’m in a good mood this morning, I’m feeling happy and upbeat, I love being with Mitt and Ann, but let me tell you, you people disappoint me on Tuesday, you don’t do what you’re supposed to do on Tuesday for Mitt Romney, I will be back Jersey-style, people, I will be back.”
The New Jersey governor said that watching the 13 televised debates that preceded Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation balloting convinced him that Romney has the experience, character and qualities needed to defeat Obama.
Romney told the crowd the 2012 presidential race isn’t just about defeating Obama, it’s about “saving the soul of America.” The former Massachusetts governor said he believes in a merit society based on freedom and opportunity rather than a European-style “entitlement society.”
“I represent a very dramatic change from what you’ve seen over the past three years,” he said.
Romney, who has forged to the upper echelon of the GOP field in Iowa despite spending less time in the state than four years ago, noted to groans by the weather-beaten crowd that Obama is vacationing in Hawaii. “He just finished his 90th round of golf.”
Romney said he hopes to have a chance to bring the country “real change” but he needs the help of Iowans next Tuesday to launch his 2012 presidential bid with a strong caucus performance.
“The fight to take back the White House starts on Tuesday night and it starts here in Iowa and we are counting on you to get out there,” Christie said. “Take nothing for granted, elections are decided by the people who show up, by the people who vote.”
One of the roughly 500 people who braved the weather to see the Romneys and Christie grabbed a free cup of coffee provided by the campaign and commented “We might as well pick a president, there’s no corn to pick today” – an apparent dig at former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s contention that “They pick corn in Iowa, they actually pick presidents here in New Hampshire.”
West Des Moines veteran John Strong held up a sign that proclaimed “Obama we trusted, now our economy is busted” that caught Romney’s eye. “You got it right, brother,” he told Strong, who noted in an interview that the ex-governor saw the sign before and had previously autographed it at his Des Moines headquarters.
R.T. Rybak, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the GOP race in Iowa has been “a reality show-style campaign” featuring Republicans “who sometimes seem a little bit more likely to be candidates for Jersey Shore than the White House.”
The DNC executive said Romney and his surrogates have poured millions of dollars into TV commercials and attack ads in Iowa but has failed to win “the hearts and minds” of local Republicans as he struggles to lead “an incredibly weak field” here.
“Candidate Romney has chosen to do it the old-fashioned way, which is to try to buy it and that is wrong,” he told a West Des Moines news conference. “No matter what happens in this election, Mitt Romney has lost Iowa because he was unable and now the second election cycle in a row to look Iowans in the eye and earn their trust.”
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