For all the talk about different “lanes” in the 2016 presidential contest — a conservative lane, an establishment lane, a religious lane — there are only two places for a campaign bus in the final hours here.
You’re either in the fast lane, or slow.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is firmly in the slow lane. He’s far down in Iowa polls. He lacks the volunteer staff and get-out-the-vote machinery of other Republicans.
He was campaigning across the state Friday, but his crowds were a fraction of size of Donald Trump’s. Organizers pulled chairs off the floor an hour before his arrival here to try and make the room look more crowded. He’d be ecstatic with a fourth-place finish in the GOP caucuses.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But low expectations can be liberating for second-tier candidates. In his hour-long town hall meeting Friday morning, Christie was loose, funny, sharp.
“North Koreans are crazy,” he said at one point. Colleges and universities are “taking us to the cleaners” with high tuition. Nancy Pelosi can ride on Air Force One “whenever she wants” if Christie wins.
The New Jersey Republican was warmly received by the 120 people who were there, although Iowans always challenge candidates at town halls and this was no exception. Voters asked about Social Security (he wants to cut it), the military (he wants to expand it), even relations with Holland.
There are lots of Dutch people in Pella.
He urged them to ignore the polls. “You will launch people out of Iowa,” he said. “And you will send people home after Iowa.”
He then turned to Trump, who baffles the candidates as much as reporters.
“It’s fine to be entertaining,” he said. “But showtime is over. It’s game time. …
We are not electing the entertainer-in-chief. We’re electing the commander-in-chief.”
It isn’t clear if that closing argument will bring Christie enough votes to justify his limited time in Iowa. A few minutes after he made them, he was off, down the road, for another event, hoping his campaign still has time to pick up speed.