The Republican candidate goes from table to table with a big smile and a direct line of introduction. "Hello, I'm Chris Christie." Thus he breaks the ice and instantly holds out his voluminous right hand to greet. He accepts selfies and chat up diners interested in his eloquence. The two-time governor of New Jersey is campaigning for Miami-Dade County, Florida, with more than one eye on Latino voters.
Christie walks the hall of the historic Versailles restaurant, located on Calle Ocho in Little Havana. This noon, like every day for almost 50 years, the dishes of the Cuban dining area are a parade of rice, beans, plantains, pork and chicken. Also, strong coffees and guava cakes.
This experienced 60-year-old politician and lawyer kindly greets RaÃºl, Javier and Elvira, the local Cuban waiters. Do they consider the possibility of voting for him in 2024? "Maybe, he seems nice," says Javier. At the same time, it reveals Christie's main deficit on his way to the White House: the lack of national knowledge.
However, the former governor of New Jersey arrived in Florida excited about something new. He has just surpassed Ron DeSantis in a key presidential primary state: New Hampshire. According to an Emerson College poll, Christie got 9 points of voting intention and reached second place among Republicans, behind only Donald Trump.
The former governor of New Jersey searching for the Latino vote during his visit to Versailles in Little Havana
"I am already second in New Hampshire. I am convinced that my support numbers are going to increase in the polls as I access a larger audience," he enthuses at a stop in his tour. "I want the people in Florida to know that they have a choice in me. They don't have to go after Governor DeSantis, and they definitely don't have to support Trump. I want them to know that I am going to fight for their vote and support," he adds.
Christie is one of the eight Republicans who met the requirements to access the first debate of the opposition candidates that took place on August 23 and was televised by Fox News.
His trusts his polemicist skills and is committed to closing the gap that separates him from Trump. Despite the legal cases that are multiplying against him, the former president scores all the polls among Republicans. But Christie stands as his fiercest adversary. He discusses him in the media and social networks, to the point of calling him a coward and a few other things.
Cuban Osvaldo HernÃ¡ndez lives in Little Havana and came to Versailles to meet Christie. He greets him and listens attentively. "I liked him, but I am in favor of Trump. The leftists in the White House are doing a witch hunt on him. Of all the candidates, there is only one. The rest are liquidated," says the anti-Castrism exile.
As Christie deploys his personalized proselytizing, LPO confirms what at the time was a rumor. Trump wouldn't be at the debate. A tactical absence: leader in the polls, the former president avoids taking risks. "So he won't go," MAGA's adversary get annoyed in a corridor of Versailles. "It is a disrespect for the voters," he says. On what seems like a strangehold on Trump among Republican supporters, the former New Jersey governor explains: "He's been nominated the last two times." It's that, there is nothing else. But the Republicans will understand. By the time we get to the debate stage, Trump is going to be facing criminal charges in 4 states. We cannot nominate someone like that because that way Joe Biden is going to win. But that is going to start to change as Republicans focus on the race. Whether you think what he did is criminal or not, his conduct is shocking. Republicans are going to change their minds. When you look at the polls by state, 60% of Republicans prefers someone else," he says.
Could the trend of surveys change?
Survey numbers may change. If we go with the guy who was nominated the last two times, there are a lot of Republicans who are not going to like him. I am trying to make the Republican Party a winning party again and take it off the hands of a guy who lost three times, in 2018, 2020 and 2022. I want Biden to be defeated. That's why we cannot nominate Trump again.
What do you think of the new immigration laws that DeSantis applied in Florida?
I don't want to get into state laws and what does each governor do. The best person to weigh in on that is DeSantis, who has to implement them.
How is your proposal different from those of Trump and DeSantis?
With me as president, they will deal with important issues and someone will always tell them the truth. Sometimes they'll like it and sometimes they won't, but they won't have to wonder what I really think.
Do you think you can seduce the Latino voter?
I think I could have their support because I already won the Latino vote in New Jersey when I ran for governor re-election. I had 51% of the Latino vote. Latino voters are not looking for something different than anyone else. They want someone smart and good who can do the job and tell them the truth. If I do that, and I will, I have a good chance of receiving their support.
Do you have specific proposals for the Latino community living in the United States?
I don't have specific politics by ethnic group. I don't think it's the way we should do things in America. I think you must go everywhere, campaign and say the same thing, your proposals, regardless of where you go or who you talk to. When you say one thing in one place and other thing in another place, according to the audience, people start to wonder what you really think. I don't want to do that. I want to talk about the issues that are essential for the country, but the important thing is to listen and be ready to answer questions when they come. As a leader, it is important to listen as well as speak. I tell the Cuban community that they are going to have a president to trust again. Something they couldn't with Obama, nor with Trump, nor with Biden. I am going to break the tradition of those three, knowing what to do.
Why do you think you are the only Republican who dares to confront Trump?
I don't know. You should ask the rest of them. I think they are auditioning for what could be a post in Trump's cabinet. Or they are just afraid of him. And I don't want to be in Trump's cabinet, because I have already rejected it several times. And I can guarantee: I'm not afraid of him, I never was. I'm waiting to face him.
Translator: Bibiana Ruiz.
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