With Christie out of the primaries, many of his backers turn their attention to Haley : NPR

Nikki Haley is hoping for a big day in New Hampshire’s primary. But if she’s going to catch up to former President Donald Trump, she’ll need the support of voters who previously backed Chris Christie.


Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is hoping for a big day in next week’s New Hampshire primary. But if she is going to catch up to former President Donald Trump, she will need the support of voters who previously backed Chris Christie. NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith caught up with some of the former New Jersey governor’s supporters.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Catherine Johnson was a Chris Christie super volunteer, fashioning herself a role that was basically a Walmart greeter but for town halls and candidate meet-and-greets. She logged so many miles along the way.

CATHERINE JOHNSON: I’m thinking about 5,000 since October.

KEITH: And so of course she was there when Christie announced he was suspending his campaign. She was supposed to be manning the mic that night for the question-and-answer portion of the event.

JOHNSON: And at the very last second, they had me sit down.

KEITH: There would be no more of Christie’s trademark Q&A. Johnson really believed in Christie and loved his willingness to stand up to Trump. She is a registered Democrat and knows it’s kind of weird to be so dedicated to a Republican candidate, but she cried right there at the town hall.

JOHNSON: I knew the campaign was going to come to an end on January 23, but I still thought I had two weeks.

KEITH: Most of the supporters we talked to thought Christie would drop out after the New Hampshire primary on the 23. Norm Olsen had hosted a meet-and-greet with Christie at his home in Portsmouth shortly before Christmas and appreciated that he was the only Republican in the race willing to say what he felt needed to be said about Trump. Olsen is a Republican, but he never could stomach a vote for Trump. He went libertarian in the last two elections. Now, with his candidate out, he immediately knew who would get his vote.

NORM OLSEN: It was very clear. If it wasn’t him, it was going to be Nikki.

KEITH: Christie, pointedly, didn’t endorse anyone when he dropped out. In fact, he was critical of Haley for saying that if Trump is the nominee, she would support him even if he’s convicted of a crime. But Christie leaving the race is widely seen as a boon for Haley, who benefits from New Hampshire allowing independents to vote in the Republican primary. Olsen says his Christie-backing friends have largely shifted to Haley.

OLSEN: Well, out of 10 people that I know, eight of them were about as quick as I was to go to Nikki, and two of them haven’t made up their mind yet. That’s just the folks I know, so it’s obviously not a scientific study.

KEITH: But a more scientific University of New Hampshire poll taken before Christie dropped out found that 65% of Christie voters had Haley as their second choice. Dawn Hartnett, an IT project manager from Hooksett, is one of them. She’s an independent who has never voted for a Republican at the national level, but that’s about to change. She says she can’t stand the chaos of Trump. And after Christie dropped out, she attended a Haley event.

DAWN HARTNETT: She is our last best chance, and – but a very good – a good person to vote for. I think she’d do a great job.

KEITH: Retired nurse Corinne Pryor is still in the undecided category. She liked that Christie spoke his mind about Trump’s Republican Party.

CORINNE PRYOR: Nikki Haley sometimes said it but not in so many words. It did feel like it was a little softer landing. He was – Chris Christie was much more verbal and forthright.

KEITH: But what she really craves is someone moderate – someone to bring the country together.

PRYOR: Well, she’s more in the middle than Trump is, I think, you know, if I have to compare. It depends who I’m comparing her to, I guess.

KEITH: As for Christie super volunteer Catherine Johnson, she’s now attending Haley events, including the one in Hooksett where I caught up with her. But come Tuesday…

JOHNSON: I’m going to vote for Governor Christie on a write-in ticket for the Democratic New Hampshire primary, and then I’m going to spend the rest of the day driving anybody who needs a ride to the poll.

KEITH: Starting with her 91-year-old mother.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Manchester, N.H.


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