With governor back in N.J., Mary Pat Christie fills in for him in N.H.

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"I chose to be his running mate for the rest of our lives," said Mary Pat Christie, wife of Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie.

NASHUA, N.H. - Not long after she entered Chez Vachon, a Manchester, N.H., restaurant known for its poutine - and visits by presidential candidates - Mary Pat Christie was hearing about attack ads featuring her husband.

"We've been getting all kinds of mail, particularly from Bush's super PAC, about all the things that are bad about your husband," Earl Rinker said, after Christie took a seat at his table Saturday. "You guys have got to respond to that."

Christie said her husband's campaign had reached voters by knocking on 30,000 doors. "Tell your friends to not believe what they're reading," she told Rinker, a former member of a state elected board.

Gov. Christie left the campaign trail Friday, returning to New Jersey because of the snowstorm, but his wife stayed behind and filled in at some of his campaign events as the Feb. 9 primary nears.

A former managing director of a New York City investment firm who quit her job before the governor announced his campaign last year, Christie is often by the governor's side at campaign events, though rarely in the spotlight.

In an interview Saturday, she said she hadn't considered going back to New Jersey: "I had just gotten up here Thursday night. I didn't feel like turning around and going back. And I'd already had my babysitter lined up." The Christies have two children at home and two in college.

After making the rounds Saturday morning at Chez Vachon and the New Hampshire Farm and Forest Exposition, Christie gave a speech at a candidates' forum in Nashua, telling a crowd - which had thinned out from earlier in the day - how she and her husband had met as students at the University of Delaware.

Describing how the future governor of New Jersey encouraged her "ever so gently" to run for student government, Christie said she ended up being his running mate, "because I believed in him."

"I chose to be his running mate for the rest of our lives," she said.

Christie, who read from prepared remarks, also said that before being "a candidate's wife," she was a mother whose "full-time job" now is taking care of their two children still at home.

She repeated some of her husband's campaign themes, describing the impact Sept. 11 had on the two of them and saying the governor would stand with law enforcement.

"Never have I seen Chris' compassion more" than after Hurricane Sandy, she said.

He had showed "what it means to be a real leader: to show up, roll up your sleeves - or in this case, his fleece - and get things done," she said.

She said that "if I have the honor of serving as first lady," she would take up veterans' issues.

Back in New Jersey, the governor was in Sayreville on Saturday, giving an update on the storm and the state's response. "This is my 17th snow emergency in six years. So we know how to do this," he said.

He also got TV airtime, calling into CNN, Fox News, and NBC - and brushing off criticism on the timing of his decision to return to New Jersey. "I don't know why they would be critical. I was here last night before the first snowflake dropped," Christie said in the NBC interview.

The governor had arrived in New Hampshire on Wednesday and was scheduled to stay through Monday. He missed six campaign events scheduled for Friday and Saturday. It wasn't clear when he would return; a campaign spokeswoman said they wouldn't know until Sunday morning.

"It's so important in the final weeks to press the flesh," said Patrick Murray, a political analyst at Monmouth University.

Murray, who attended candidate events in New Hampshire last week, noted the number of voters still undecided on the race. To win them over, a "personal impression" can matter, he said.

But Christie risked criticism if he stayed in New Hampshire.

"The backlash probably wouldn't have been good for him," said Randy King, who was having breakfast at Chez Vachon. King, a Democrat, told Mary Pat Christie it was a "good decision" by her husband to return.

Asked in the interview whether her husband was frustrated to have left the campaign trail, Christie said: "I don't think it's really that frustrating. He really was serious about needing to make sure things are running smoothly."

Earlier in the day, Christie toured the Farm and Forest Exposition with Tom Thomson, son of former New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thomson - famous for an "ax the tax" campaign slogan.

She spoke with Jack Potter, who described taking up goat farming after serving in the Air Force - and who told Christie he had an idea for her husband "if he doesn't win this president thing."

"He would be phenomenal as attorney general," Potter, who is leaning toward Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, told a reporter. He said Mary Pat Christie told him: "Of course, we want the big chair."

mhanna@phillynews.com

856-779-3232 @maddiehanna

www.philly.com/christiechronicles