COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talked up his conservative credentials to a room of South Carolina voters Tuesday evening, as he kicked off his first visit to the early-voting state in nearly five months.
The potential Republican presidential candidate had been scheduled to attend a meet-and-greet at a Columbia bar called the Liberty Tap Room, but the event turned into an impromptu town hall, with Christie answering questions from the friendly crowd for an hour and a half.
Among the topics: Christie's support for the Second Amendment. New Jersey has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, but Christie, who ran his first campaigns for local office defending the state's assault weapons ban, blamed a Democratic legislature for the state's current laws, and said he'd vetoed recent attempts to limit gun owners' rights.
"Listen, I know that there's a lot of perceptions about my view on gun rights because I'm from New Jersey and because the laws are the way they are," he told the crowd. "We'll just have to explain that to folks over the course of time."
Christie also touted his decision, announced last week, to steer New Jersey away from the Common Core standards, which are deeply unpopular among many conservative voters. Christie had once been a cheerleader for the voluntary standards, which dictate what children should know at specific grade levels, but has faulted them in increasingly strong language in recent months.
"Just last week, I said to folks, I've come to the conclusion it just doesn't work," he said Tuesday evening, earning loud applause.
Anna Stiglbauer, 43, told Christie she was torn between him and the state's senior U.S. senator, Lindsey Graham, who formally announced his candidacy Monday. Christie says he still hasn't made up his mind about a presidential run, but will make a decision by the end of the month.
Christie said he was also a fan of the senator, but argued that being governor was better preparation for the White House. He also likened his hawkish foreign policy outlook to Graham's. "If you heard Lindsey and I talk about foreign policy, you would say it sounds very similar," he said.
Christie was also scheduled Tuesday to meet with Gov. Nikki Haley and attend a reception hosted by an old college friend who has been serving as Christie's informal liaison in the state.
On Wednesday, he'll hold his first out-of-state town hall event outside of New Hampshire, a breakfast gathering at Tommy's Country Ham House in Greenville, before taking a walking tour of small businesses in the city's downtown with a member of the city council.
Several in attendance Tuesday said they were impressed by Christie. Stiglbauer said after the event that Christie had won her over.
"I have to admit, he swayed me," she said.
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