NASHUA — Promising, “I’m going to be here often to help Walt as much as I possibly can,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took stood by Republican Walt Havenstein at the candidate for governor’s old corporate haunts Thursday, calling him “inspiring” for entering public life.
Havenstein has a primary against libertarian-minded conservative Andrew Hemingway on Sept. 9, but all the focus at a lovefest at the BAE Systems defense contracting facility he once headed was focused on November.
And although Christie heads the Republican Governors Association, the group committed to getting as many Republicans elected governor as possible, the visit also had 2016 first-in-the-nation primary overtones because of Christie’s well-known interest in gearing up a campaign for President.
Christie Thursday evening attended a private fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, helping to financially strengthen the NHGOP as the mid-term election approaches while building relationships with key party leaders and activists.
Christie recently traveled to Iowa, home of the first presidential caucus in the nation, and intends to travel to South Carolina, home of the key first primary in the South, in September.
The only event open to the media during Christie’s visit was a 30-minute joint appearance with Havenstein in the auditorium of the BAE Nashua office before several dozen employees whom he formerly supervised.
Havenstein became emotional as he addressed them, saying, “As I chat with you this afternoon, think of it as the nothing more than the emotional chats we had many times in this room and on Canal Street, Merrimack 15 and in Hudson about our future.
“Have I told you lately how proud I am of you? Have I told you lately how much I miss you? I do,” he said, his voice cracking.
Referring to his wife, he said, “Judy said that this would be the hardest conversation that I have on this campaign. She’s right.”
He said he was proud of the employees’ accomplishments for BAE Systems, “for each other, but most importantly for the young men and women who serve our country in those helmets and flak jackets and flight suits and bell bottom trousers.”
Havenstein came to New Hampshire in 1999 as executive vice president of the former Sanders Associates and quickly became company president. Sanders was acquired by BAE Systems in 2000 and Havenstein became president of the BAE Nashua facility. In 2007, he was promoted to CEO of BAE Systems, headquartered in Maryland.
Havenstein said he is running for governor because “I want to put breath back into the economy of New Hampshire. Back into what I refer to as a walking dead economy that is barely moving and has no life.”
He said the state economy grew 1.1 percent and .9 percent in the past two years, and, “There are people in Washington and, frankly, our governor who believe that’s acceptable and that’s the right direction. It’s not.” He called it “embarrassing.”
He intends to roll out a jobs agenda next week, he said, and intends to set a milestone of “8/15/17,” in a fashion similar to what he did during his tenure for the contractor.
Havenstein said he would bring “a new concept of operations in the state government,” which is “pro-growth, pro-business, pro-future.”
Although Havenstein trails Gov. Maggie Hassan by more than 20 percentage points in recent polling, Christie said, “The RGA will be engaged here, because we believe that Walt is an outstanding candidate with a real chance to win, and when he wins, he’ll make all of us proud that we made the investment in him and his vision for New Hampshire’s future.”
Christie said BAE’s budget was three times the size of the New Hampshire budget, “so nothing that ever happens to him at the state capital of New Hampshire from that perspective will overwhelm him.
“This is somebody who understands the principles of honesty and integrity and forthrightness and responsible management,” Christie said.
Christie said he was familiar with the challenge Havenstein would face should be become governor, “having taken over New Jersey in a similar circumstance in 2010. I can tell Walt it’s not easy when you’re a governor having to take over a moribund economy.”
Havenstein said after the event he “won’t try to speculate on (Christie’s) motivation” for coming to the state, “except that his motivation as chair of the Republican Governors Association is to get Republicans elected. And he knows that Governor Hassan is vulnerable and that my track record of performance is one that is in stark contrast to hers. He believes we’ll be successful in this race otherwise he wouldn’t be here.”
Christie’s visit drew the attention of national Democrats. Mo Elleithee, a veteran of several New Hampshire political battles, who now is the communications director of the Democratic National Committee, traveled to the state from Washington to criticize Christie.
“He made a point earlier this week of saying he doesn’t do lost cause races,” Elleithee said, referring to Christie’s comments about New York GOP candidate for governor Rob Astorino.
“So it’s pretty clear why he’s here – as part of his presidential rehabilitation tour. And that’s fine,” said Elleithee. “I want him to come up here as often as possible because I want people in New Hampshire to start asking him some questions about his record.
“If he tries to hold himself up as the model governor, then he should answer why New Jersey is 48th in the country in terms of job growth, why he’s presided over six credit downgrades with more likely to come, why New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation.”
“Because of his bad stewardship,” Elleithee said, “New Jersey has an $800 million budget shortfall that he’s trying to plug by cutting pensions. If he wants to come up here and explain why that is a model record, I’ll buy the next plane ticket.”
Eleithee was asked to leave the grounds of BAE when he held an impromptu news conference before Christie arrived.
Christie took no questions from the media and so had no opportunity to respond to the Democrat’s comments. There was also no response from his spokesman to a New Hampshire Journal request for comment.
The DNC posted a web video parodying Christie’s attendance at the Fisher Cats game. The video is entitled, “Minor League Economic Stewardship.”
Prior the event, Havenstein told the New Hampshire Journal in an interview he always opposed the Affordable Care Act despite the fact that the company he headed when he left BAE – Science Applications International Corp. – received contracts to help implement the health care law championed by President Barack Obama and the Democrats.
The Huffington Post reported that Havenstein spoke on a 2011 earnings call about helping SAIC “capitalize on new opportunities as federal and commercial health markets converge.”
According to the Huffington Post, “SAIC was paid $2.4 million in 2011 by the Program Management Office set up under the Internal Revenue Service to implement the law, according to a Government Accountability Office report. In 2013, another GAO report showed SAIC received $2.7 million, this time from the Health Insurance Reform Implementation Fund, also administered by the IRS.”
Havenstein did not deny the report but downplayed it.
“I’ve always been opposed to Obamacare,” he said. “All this illustrates is that business responsibilities and the personal political beliefs of the chief executive of a large company like SAIC are not one in the same.”
“As a government contractor we looked at where the opportunities matched up with the strengths of our company and some aspects of Obama, in terms of supporting the government, were in line with what we were doing.”
Havenstein said that contracts of $2 million, “put in the context of a $12 billion enterprise – I hope people keep perspective about this.”
But the state Democratic Party hit Havenstein on the subject.
“Apparently Walt was fine using the Affordable Care Act to boost SAIC’s sagging profits as CEO, but wants to deny the benefits of the ACA for 50,000 hard-working Granite Staters,” said party spokesman Bryan Lesswing. “Once again, Walt Havenstein has shown that he is more concerned about looking out for himself than looking out for the priorities of the people of New Hampshire.”