TOMS RIVER – Energizing a town hall chamber filled withsupporters, Republicangubernatorial candidate Chris Christie launched his final week, 21-county tour this afternoon inthe heart of Republican Ocean County.
"I believe hope is real," said Christie. "You have to go out now and convince not just fellow Republicans, but Democrats and independents: in your church parking lots, soccer and football fields, school yards. We can say hope is real with a sense of conviction. We must have the courage to believe New Jersey can be a better place."
This was where Christie beganhis campaign last February, and with six days remaining in his bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, he again expressed his desire that "Toms River and Ocean County will provide (running mate) Kim Guadagno andme the margin of victory we need to win this election."
A Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows the Republican trending in the wrong direction and five points behind Corzine, but two other polls this week, including one released by Rasmussen, showed Christie four points in front of the governor.
Standing at a podium in front of a Christie-Guadagno banner, the Republican candidateprojected confidence to a crowd excited by the prospectthat the Rasmussen poll more clearly reflects the will of a majority of voters who want to dump Corzine.
"We're calling this the 'Countdown to Change' tour," said Christie, in contrast to what hedescribed asCorzine's "Save me from Myself" tour, featuring the presence, by turns, of President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, and Vice President Joe Biden, among other Democratic Party luminaries.
"Last year, Obama said 'We are the change we've been waiting for, and that phrase is even more correct today than it was a year ago," said Christie, casting himself in a roomful of GOP GOTV jet fuel as the lone, unhindered presence against the Democrats' big name excesses.
The Republican's campaign has included numerousand repeated salvos into Democratic Party strongholds like Newark and Jersey City,causingcringes among some in the conservative movement who believe those areas are in opposition lockdown and don't meritcampaign time attention.
To the question of whether he intends to campaignin the final days with movement conservative Steve Lonegan, whom he defeated in the Republican Primary, Christie said,"I called Steve yesterday to check in with him."
Lonegan this afternoon confirmed that he received a call from Christie.
"I think I made my position prettyclear," said Lonegan. "I endorsed him. He left me a message and I returned his call, believing that we would connect and talk today, but I've spoken to Chris before and he knowshe has my support."
Christie sprinkled some Lonegan language into his speech today when he said of Corzine, "He's going to continue to raise taxes. He believes every good idea comes out of Trenton."
Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore laughed off the suggestion that Christie, by campaigning vigorously in Corzine's base, had left his Republican flank unprotected.
"We have a very energized base of Republicans here," said the veteran party chairman, whose county consists of 92,399 registeredRepublicansagainst 73,299 Democrats with the 170,353 unaffiliated voters tending heavily Republican.
The vibeshowed today, as the crowd gave Christie several standing ovations.
Just prior to the Republican nominee's remarks, Gilmore stood at the top of the stairs in Town Hall, usheringChristie backersinto the same chamber that Democrats rent for their special political occasions.Accompanying Christie were an old ally, former prosecutor and Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher; and State Party Chairman Jay Webber.
"Jon Corzine has spent $23.6 million on televisionadvertising and it didn't do any good because Chris is still standing hre," said Kelaher, holding up an Asbury Park Press editorial endorsing the Republican over the sitting Democratic governor.
Although Toms River was the starting point for his final bus tour before Election Day, Christieintends to continue tocampaign in Corzine's base areas as part of his 81-stop swing, including Essex and Hudson counties.
If Corzine isn't adding Ocean, for example, to his campaign itinerary, Democrats are simultaneously trying to blunt the impact of high Republican turnout here, relying on local mayoral contests in Jackson and Brick to create some party buzz.
Moreover, thissummer Democrats poured moneyintostationary advertising featuring Christie's distorted face stretched over the length and breadth of billboards like the bloated villain in a drive-in movie.
"We got complaints about those," said Gilmore. "I thought they were great because they just motivated us more."
On Wednesday, aHalloween costume store advert filled the same billboard on Route 70 that two months agohad held the face of Christie.