Attendees at the Iowa Irish Fest on Saturday morning were very surprised to see New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie make an appearance at the festival.
Christie ignored fair organizers, who expressed a clear preference that presidential candidates not peddle their wares at the fair, Iowa's biggest Irish event.
Organizers had made clear they did not want attendees bothered and all candidates with the exception of Christie respected that.
Chad Shipman, a top organizer, had told an Irish group for Hilllary Clinton it was not approved to lobby. "Unfortunately we do not allow any soliciting or businesses to hand out material or market during our Fest," he wrote.
The New Jersey governor did not seem to get the memo, however. Christie and his wife Mary Pat spent more than an hour at the downtown Waterloo event, shaking hands and snapping selfies with festival goers and runners of the Irish Fest 5K race.
“We’re happy to be here. We really are,” Christie said to attendees.
Christie, whose father was Irish and his mother Sicilian, visited the Italian-American Heritage Festival the weekend before in downtown Des Moines.
Gary Dunn of Waterloo, who spent some time talking with Christie about Notre Dame, told The Gazette that in all the years he’s been coming to the Irish Fest, he’s never encountered another presidential hopeful.
“I like Gov. Christie, because he is direct. He lets you know where he stands … I just see him as a leader,” Dunn said, adding, “I’m tickled to death with the number of choices and the caliber of choices we have to choose from this year.”
Urbandale’s John Leonhar, who was with his three daughters and hundreds of other runners waiting for the race to get underway, noticed Christie minutes before the Irish Fest 5K started.
Leonhart says he is still choosing which candidate to support. While he likes Rand Paul, Leonhart said he also likes what he’s heard from Christie.
Christie, who is polling nationally at 3 to 4 percent, has said he has confidence that he will be among the top 10 candidates to be able to participate in the first Republican primary debate on Thursday.
“I’ve never had a whole lot of trouble getting attention, so I don’t think that’s my problem,” Christie told media after walking the grounds. “I just think it’s differentiating yourself.”