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Chris Christie brings ‘underdog’ 2024 campaign to SC with anti-Trump message

Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, far right, takes questions at his Columbia, South Carolina, town hall on Friday, July 21.
Maayan Schechter
SC Public Radio
Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, far right, takes questions at his Columbia, South Carolina, town hall on Friday, July 21.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie held a town hall in Columbia July 21 as he seeks the Republican nomination for president in 2024.

Inside the small venue of curious voters and media, one man told Chris Christie that he made the trek from Loris to Columbia on Friday, in part, to see how South Carolina would react to the 2024 presidential candidate trash-talking Donald Trump.

The man told the former New Jersey governor that he was grateful for the audience response, jokingly saying that he expected thrown tomatoes instead.

In South Carolina, where the former president still holds substantial sway with Republican voters and whose recent Pickens rally drew hundreds on a sweat-inducing day, Christie certainly knows he’s an "underdog" campaign.

But on this Friday, July 21, inside a Columbia venue in the city's downtown entertainment Vista district, Christie's message that S.C. Republican voters — or any voter for that matter — should dump Trump clearly resonated.

“Joe Biden’s sleeping in the White House tonight, and it’s our fault. It’s our fault. And by us I mean Republicans, who allowed President Trump to do the things that he did," Christie said. "And it empowered him. And we’ve been empowering him ever since he left the White House, and he’s been taking advantage of us as a result.”

For nearly two hours Friday, Christie held no words back as he took verbal swings on President Joe Biden's record, administration and Vice President Kamala Harris. He also answered questions about Social Security, the U.S. Supreme Court, gun violence, book bans, the war in Ukraine, Cuba and climate change.

Christie, however,saved his harshest criticisms for Trump at his first S.C. town hall, directing voters to the U.S.-Mexico border wall, Trump's vow to repeal and replace Obamacare and balance the budget — all promises, Christie said, that never happened.

“I’m not coming down here to South Carolina as some 'never Trumper.' I worked hard to get him elected in 2016. I worked hard every day to make him the best president he possibly could be for all of us and supported a lot of his policies," Christie said. "But he failed us. He failed us."

A new Fox Business poll of S.C. GOP primary voters showed Christie at 2% — far below Trump at 48% and South Carolina's two homegrown contenders, former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott at 14% and 10%, respectively.

That same poll, released July 23, reported 72% of those surveyed said ability to beat Biden is "extremely important," with 51% surveyed saying Trump is the most electable.

Christie asked voters not to get too fixated on the polls.

"Polls are worth whatever they're worth the day they come out, and the day after they come out, they're worth less and every day after that, they're worth less," Christie said. "We suck at predicting this stuff, and we also know that polls are regularly wrong."

The South Carolina Republican Party will hold the presidential primary Feb. 24, 2024.

Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) is a news reporter with South Carolina Public Radio and ETV. She worked at South Carolina newspapers for a decade, previously working as a reporter and then editor of The State’s S.C. State House and politics team, and as a reporter at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2013.