MANCHESTER, N.H. — For four months, one after another, Republican presidential candidates have tried to knock businessman Donald Trump from his front-runner’s perch. Now New Hampshire Republicans wonder whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, riding a boost of momentum in their state, could be the one.
Why Christie? On style, his supporters believe he can go toe-to-toe with Trump’s bluster. More importantly, Christie has put in the face time with individual voters in New Hampshire that is yet to be matched by Trump, who often jets into the state for rallies and then quickly leaves.
This week has been a particularly good one for Christie. He picked up the most coveted newspaper endorsement in the state for Republican presidential candidates. He rolled out a series of endorsements from top New Hampshire activists. And for the first time since March, a poll put him in the double-digit level of support in the state.
“After the week he has had, Christie looks to be the one who will become the alternative to Donald Trump,” said Scott Spradling, a former WMUR-TV political director who is now a nonpartisan New Hampshire communications consultant. “What is unique about Christie is that he is a tough, snub-nosed New Jersey politician who can take a punch and deliver a punch back. He has been training for this moment with Trump his entire career.”
Many former presidential candidates have tried and failed to slay Trump: Former Texas governor Rick Perry, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — all pointed critics of the businessman — have dropped their campaigns. Other hopefuls, like former Florida governor Jeb Bush and US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, have seen their poll numbers collapse after high-profile tussles with Trump.
For much of the year, Christie has been reluctant to take on Trump: They had a social relationship prior to becoming rivals for the GOP nomination.
But as Christie caught some momentum in the past week, he has taken a relatively more critical tone on Trump.
Christie dismissed Trump’s repeated claim that “thousands” of Muslims celebrated in New Jersey following the Sept. 11 attacks as “just wrong.” After Trump slammed Christie on Twitter last weekend, Christie responded in New Hampshire: “I’m happy to get the attention from Donald. I’m happy to take whatever advice he has, you know, in a 140 characters or less.”
Until recently, Christie has addressed Trump only when he was asked about him. And on Tuesday, Christie appeared miffed in Manchester when the first question from a reporter was about a recent Trump comment.
“You all quite frankly should be ashamed of yourselves,” Christie told the reporters at Hope for NH Recovery, where he appeared for a round-table discussion on fighting drug addiction, one of the governor’s signature issues in this campaign.
Going forward, it’s unclear how much of Christie’s strategy will include taking on Trump directly, and officially the campaign has signaled no shift in strategy. When asked about Trump, Christie’s communications director, Sam Smith, declined to address her candidate’s foe directly.
But that could change if Christie gets closer to Trump in Granite State polls.
A Public Policy Polling survey released Thursday showed Christie has the highest favorability numbers in the entire 14-person Republican field in New Hampshire — 61 percent of voters view him positively. In the survey, Christie was the first choice of 10 percent of likely primary voters, putting him behind Trump at 27 percent, and close to both US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, 13 percent, and US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, 11 percent.
“Christie has the momentum and probably has the best opportunity to take on Trump,” said Tom Jensen, the director of Public Policy Polling, which often works for Democratic or liberal groups. “He has the traction in New Hampshire by consolidating the moderate wing behind him, and he has the same bombastic style to go toe to toe with Trump.”
The New Hampshire Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper, painted Christie as the brain with Trump’s brawn in its Sunday endorsement of him . (Although the newspaper did not name Trump specifically, it has been highly critical of him in the past.)
“Other candidates have gained public and media attention by speaking bluntly. But it’s important when you are telling it like it is to actually know what you are talking about,” wrote Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid. “Governor Christie knows what he is saying because he has experienced it. And unlike some others, he believes in what he says because he has a strong set of conservative values.”
Christie has another advantage over other candidates who failed to topple Trump. Instead of taking Trump to task in press statements, like Bush, or television ads, like Governor John Kasich of Ohio, Christie challenges Trump on the ground.
Christie’s most recent trip to New Hampshire marked the governor’s 50th day in the state this year. Last year, Christie frequently campaigned for the Republican nominee for governor (the candidate, Walt Havenstein, lost, but Christie built good will in the state as a result). He’s also received support from some of the most influential Republicans in the state.
This week, Christie picked up endorsements from former New Hampshire speaker Donna Sytek and former US representative Bill Zeliff.
Christie’s problem might be that, as with many other candidates, voters will see him as an experienced politician and part of the political status quo.
Greg Strimple, who was Christie’s pollster in his 2009 run for governor and worked this year for Perry’s campaign, said the New Jerseyan could fail because this election year Republican voters are looking for people new to politics.
But experience is why one New Hampshire Republican endorsed Christie this week.
“I am looking for someone that I know can do the job on their first day in office,” said Renee Plummer, a prominent Seacoast Republican.
Jim O’Sullivan contributed to this report. James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell, or subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign at bostonglobe.com/groundgame.