CONCORD, N.H. - Leo Ouellette, a retired mailman from New Hampshire, is a fan of Gov. Christie's brash personality. But that does not necessarily mean he'll vote for Christie in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
While Ouellette, 72, likes Christie - "I don't want a wimp," he said Monday, a cup of coffee in front of him, at the Windmill Restaurant in Concord - he also likes Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
"I'm wide open," Ouellette said.
So, too, is the field of prospective Republican presidential candidates, as viewed by voters, elected officials, and strategists in the state. The race is seen as up for grabs, especially since 2012 nominee Mitt Romney's decision not to run a third time.
On Monday, Christie gave New Hampshire voters a glimpse of a possible 2016 policy platform, telling Republicans at a dinner in Concord that within his first 100 days in the White House, he would change a "ridiculous" U.S. tax system, "so people and companies aren't leaving the country anymore."
He also said he would pass a national energy policy to "take advantage" of American resources. "We need to get down to the granular level on national energy policy," Christie said in response to a question from the crowd.
The speech, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd of 250 Republicans, was Christie's first appearance in New Hampshire since he made five trips to the state last year, campaigning for candidates as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
And he indicated he plans to come back often - and take more questions. "The more I come back, the less speech you're going to get, and the more time you're going to get to ask questions and challenge me," Christie said. He suggested the crowd check out "some of my more interesting interactions with my constituents" from town-hall-style meetings in New Jersey.
Christie has not held a town-hall meeting in months.
"My advice to all [potential candidates] is get here early and start meeting as many voters as you can," said Steve Duprey, New Hampshire's Republican national committeeman, who described the current field as "the most open primary, without an heir apparent, that I've seen in 45 years." Of the primary contest, Duprey said, "It's a long, steady courtship."
Christie did some courting during private meetings earlier in the day. According to a schedule released by his newly formed federal political action committee, he met with business leaders and state senators.
Scott Murray, a Republican county attorney who was part of a group of 15 who met with Christie, said he "really appreciated the man's straightforward delivery."
But securing endorsements from elected officials is likely to take time for Christie and others. "Somebody's going to have to really wow me," Republican State Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Romney supporter, said in a recent phone interview.
"It's way too early to start handicapping the field," said Bradley, who says he does not expect to endorse a candidate in the 2016 race until at least after the state budget is resolved in June. "I want to get to know some of the candidates I don't know at all."
In recent weeks, prospective candidates have been hiring staff and planning trips to the state. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush - perceived as a prime rival of Christie's - last week announced plans to visit New Hampshire in March, in what political observers said would be his first trip to the state in 15 years.
Christie on Monday talked up his work campaigning last year for Republican Walt Havenstein, who lost November's gubernatorial election to incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan by 5 percentage points.
A former Christie aide, Matt Mowers, left New Jersey last year to become the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party; he now works for Christie's political action committee.
"I don't think there's anybody who's got a huge organizational lead on [Christie] yet," said Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general who advised the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Romney.
Some New Hampshire polling, however, has shown Christie with higher unfavorable ratings than some other candidates among likely Republican primary voters.
A WMUR Granite State Poll released last week found 41 percent of those voters were favorable toward Christie, while 36 percent were unfavorable.
An NBC News/Marist Poll released Sunday found that if the New Hampshire primary were held now, Christie would finish fourth, garnering 13 percent of the vote, compared with 18 percent for Bush, 15 percent for Walker, and 14 percent for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
While polling a year before the primary may bear little resemblance to the outcome, Christie's favorability rating could raise concerns, said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
"When they know you and they don't like you, that's a different problem," Scala said. He said Christie would need to fare well in the "activist primary" unfolding over the coming months - as 2016 contenders try to line up support from influential Republicans - to get "good word of mouth out there."
Some voters interviewed Monday around Concord had negative opinions of Christie - primarily regarding his personality. "I think he's too much into himself, and he feels he's never wrong. And I don't like him," said Chris Crathern, 66, a retired accountant for the state who described herself as an independent voter.
At the dinner Monday, Tim Naro, a 59-year-old credit union worker, said he "came into this room not thinking I would ever vote for" Christie, citing what he saw as a "lovefest" between Christie and President Obama after Hurricane Sandy.
But after listening to Christie - who spoke for 35 minutes, criticizing Obama as weak on foreign policy while touting his record as a "pro-life" governor who had been reelected in a blue state - Naro said Christie "certainly has changed my mind."
Barry Wigger, a 52-year-old military veteran, said Christie gave "clear answers." But "whether somebody can give clearer answers," he said, "I don't know."