FARGO, N.D. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took aim Saturday morning at North Dakota's Democratic Senate candidate, her brother and the homecoming opponent of the North Dakota State football team.
Christie's appearance in Fargo was billed by state Republicans as a "victory rally" for all candidates, but the governor focused on the U.S. Senate race between Republican Rep. Rick Berg and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp. Christie said it's a close contest, but Berg is up for the challenge.
"Rick Berg has a fight on his hands. He's not one who backs away from a fight, you know that," Christie said.
Christie was the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention in August and has been campaigning regularly for GOP candidates across the country. Some party faithful wanted him to run for president.
The governor first took on Fargo talk show host Joel Heitkamp, Heidi Heitkamp's brother, who is a former Democratic state senator. Christie said sarcastically that he heard Joel Heitkamp was a "big fan," and then asked Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, the master of ceremonies, to tell him Heitkamp's first name.
"Joel?" Christie repeated. "So, Joel, first off, if you're watching buddy, I don't give a damn what you think of me."
Christie then told the crowd he wanted to play talk show host with Heidi Heitkamp as the guest, reeling off a string of critical questions to an imaginary candidate about health care, the national debt and defense.
"Here's what going to happen if you send Heidi to Washington, D.C.," Christie said. "All she's going to do when those votes come up in the Senate, she's going to walk down on the floor, and she's going to walk over to Harry Reid and say, 'Harry, how should I vote today? Because you and I both think the president is amazing.' "
Brandon Lorenz, a Heitkamp campaign spokesman, said after the rally: "I'm surprised Gov. Christie wants to play talk show host the same week Rep. Berg ran away from a debate in Dickinson."
Joel Heitkamp told The Associated Press he wasn't surprised he was singled out.
"I don't know if he's been going to Dale Carnegie classes, but after that flop at the Republican convention, I'm sure he has been working on his speeches," Heitkamp said. "What a better way to recover from that than to go after the No. 1 talk show host in the region."
Christie's 20-minute speech also included a jab at Youngstown State University, NDSU's opponent Saturday afternoon in a matchup of top-ranked Football Championship Subdivision teams. Both teams carried 4-0 records into the game.
"Come on, you guys are the Bison. They're the Penguins," Christie said to a roar. "Mercy, man, mercy. Mercy on the Penguins, for goodness sakes."
Paul Subart, an NDSU student who was on the stage, said he was thrilled to be up close with the governor. He believes the event will help spark all the Republican candidates.
"As for energizing the base vote, Berg is the most contested race in the state right now," Subart said. "We need to help him out as much as we can. I think this will be a boost for the base."
Jessica Lee, of Fargo, said the rally was good precursor to tailgating at the Fargodome.
"I was impressed with how much he knew about our candidates in North Dakota," Lee said. "He seemed to take the time to learn about our issues."
Chris Van Guilder, spokesman for the Berg campaign, said the rally showed the "grassroots energy."
"As you can see there are many excited, energetic supporters here that have come out to see him," Van Guilder said.