Chris Christie woos Amherst diner customers

AMHERST – Mervin Newton, of Milford, wanted to talk about Social Security and Medicare trust fund reform.

Elizabeth Ropp. of Manchester. asked about a federal immigration detention mandate that she said is reaping big profits for the prison industry.

But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was not at Joey’s Diner last week to delve into serious matters.

“He kind of side-stepped” the detention issue, said Paul Brochu, who was there with Ropp.

Christie, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, was in Amherst to schmooze with New Hampshire residents, and he and his wife, Mary Pat, spent a few minutes chatting at each table.

“He’s keeping it very light and casual,” said Sandy Johnson of Hollis, who was there with Diane Foster, of Hollis. The two friends said they liked the way Christie spoke with everyone, and they called the governor “very personable.”

It was the second day of Christie’s visit to New Hampshire last week.

“All the questions yesterday were about Tom Brady,” Christie joked at one point, but later noted that New Hampshire citizens are very engaged in the political process.

“Thanks for your questions and for keeping me on my toes,” he said.

Local Republicans at Joey’s included Bill Modis, Vice Chairman of the Amherst Republican Committee, who gave Christie a brief introduction and invited him to the town’s Fourth of July parade.

Amherst state Rep. Bob Rowe was at the diner with friends Desmond Coffee and Ken and Jean Miller.

“It was great to deal with him in person,” said Ken. “It gives you a whole different impression.”

Rowe said he likes Christie’s “strong character and presence,” but with 20 people seeking the GOP nomination, it is difficult to know whether he has a chance.

Christie’s two-day visit to the Granite State started May 7 with a roundtable discussion at the Farnum Center, a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Manchester.

New Hampshire residents have kept track of his statements, he said. When he was in Londonderry last month he saw the same woman at two separate events within two days and asked her why she attended both.

“She said, ‘I wanted to make sure you said the same thing’ at both,” he said.

No one at the diner apparently brought up the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal that knocked Christie off the top-tier of GOP presidential possibilities two years ago after a member of his staff allegedly engineered a political payback scheme that involved blocking lanes on the George Washington Bridge, causing an enormous traffic jam.

In response to a reporter’s question, Christie said he will decide whether he will run for the 2016 nomination within a month of two.

America Leads, the Super PAC aimed at helping Gov. Chris Christie raise the tens of millions required to run for president, is holding its first New Jersey fundraiser later this month, according to

Tickets for the May 28 event at a Hilton Hotel range from $10,000 to $25,000.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or