CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — An Iowa couple whose son is heading to Iraq made such an impression on Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie that he's made them a staple of his New Hampshire campaign speech this week. But while the couple came away from the encounter just as impressed, they supported rival Marco Rubio in the state's caucuses.
At nearly every stop in New Hampshire, Christie ends his remarks with a somber story of a couple he met at town hall event in Burlington, Iowa. The way he tells it, the man told him:
"Governor, I want to know what kind of commander in chief you'll be, and before you answer, I want you to know this is personal. My wife and I are sending our oldest son to Iraq in four months."
According to a video the campaign posted online, however, the question came in Davenport, Iowa, and this is what Jeff Ashcraft actually said:
"I've got a boy 23 years old who's going to be deployed to Iraq this May. He's with a unit just out of Burlington. I want to know what your take is on what's going on in the Middle East because, frankly I can't tell — I'd really like to hear something specific please — I can't tell what the hell our position is in the Middle East and what our position might be in the Middle East from most of the candidates I've heard speak."
Reached at his home in Eldridge, Iowa, on Thursday, Ashcraft said "That's crazy!" when told that Christie has been talking about him all week in New Hampshire. He said he wasn't bothered by the dramatic twist Christie has put on the encounter, and that he was extremely satisfied with Christie's answer to his question.
"It's flattering. I'm surprised it made that sort of impression," he said. "Both my wife and I were surprised at how much time he gave us. He spoke directly to us for a very long time. I thought it was probably the most detailed answer to a question I've heard from a presidential candidate this cycle."
Ashcraft said he was planning to caucus for Christie right up until Monday morning, but in the end, he backed Rubio because he believes the Florida senator would both make a great president and has a better shot at getting elected.
Christie re-told the story on Saturday, and his campaign said Friday that Ashcraft's comments don't change the point of the story about the gravity of the situation and the serious responsibilities of the next president. In his speeches, Christie tells voters he'll "rest comfortably" with whatever choice voters make if they make a decision with the Ashcrafts in mind.
"When you're about to mark your ballot, imagine you had that mother and father on either side of you, and they were watching when you marked your ballot," he said. "And you had to turn to look at them and say, 'I believe that fill-in-the-blank — whoever you're voting for — is the very best person to put your son's life in their hands. Because that's the way they're viewing their vote. Their precious son's life will now be in the hands of a new commander in chief, a new personification of America, a new symbol of America and what we stand for and what our values are."
Ashcraft, 51, president of a nonprofit organization that supports people with disabilities, has his own advice for New Hampshire voters.
"I would suggest that New Hampshire voters take a look at every single one of the candidates, and do what Gov. Christie said: Get all the information they can, and listen to their hearts," he said. "I'd go further and say, also listen to your head, and marry the two together to make a decision."