Chris Christie in New Hampshire: Bring it on

(CNN)Chris Christie branded himself as a truth-teller on Monday while visiting New Hampshire, saying he was ready to "be part of the solution to what ails America."

While his critics argue that Christie's blunt style could be his biggest weakness, the New Jersey Republican is embracing it, saying at a dinner hosted by the Concord and Merrimack County GOP that being direct is "the essence of leadership."
"There will be times where I will say things that will make you shake your head," he said. "But what you'll never say is that I don't know who he is and I don't know what he believes, and I don't know what he's willing to fight for and who he's willing to fight to get there."
    He even told the New Hampshire audience to go look up YouTube videos of his some of his more "interesting conversations" he's had with constituents at town halls — a reference to the infamous verbal brawls that helped win the governor national fame in his first term.
    It was the second week in a row he tried to frame his direct personality as a strength to an early primary audience, telling Iowans last Monday that he's "not going to shrink away" from his style.
    "There's only one Chris Christie, everybody, and this is it," he said Monday in New Hampshire.
    Christie pledged to return to New Hampshire and hold forums where voters would get a chance to ask him more questions rather than listen to him give formal remarks.
    "The more I come back, the less speech you're going to get and the more time you're going to get to ask me questions and challenge me, because that's when I'm most comfortable," he said.
    While polls show that the potential GOP presidential field is still wide open, Christie garners 13% support among potential Republican voters in New Hampshire, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll, falling behind Jeb Bush (18%), Scott Walker (15%) and Rand Paul (14%).
    Christie said voters will hear from a number of candidates over the coming months and cautioned against expecting candidate to agree with everything voters believe.
    "If we hold our candidates for public office to that standard, let me tell you what you're going to get: liars," he said. "We need to demand the truth."
    By doing that in New Jersey, he boasted, he was able to go toe-to-toe with the Democratic-controlled legislature to help reform the state's pension system, balance the budget every year, decrease the number of employees on state payroll, yet still spend a "record amount" on education — all by "saying 'no' to the ravenous appetite of Democrats and liberals for more taxes and more spending and bigger government."
    "If we did it in New Jersey, everybody, for God's sake we can do it in the United States of America," he said.
    Still, Democrats and other critics point to big problems facing the Garden State, including at least eight credit downgrades since Christie took office in January 2010, huge cuts to the state's public employee pension system and a struggling Atlantic City.
    For his part, Christie argues that he inherited the financial mess and vows that his policies are the only way to get the state out of a hole.
    Asked how he would apply his record in a blue state on the national level, Christie again tried to hammer the point about being direct.
    "I don't think there's different brands of honesty" in various states, he said. "Straightforwardness plays no matter what neighborhood you're in in New Jersey or what state you're in in America."
    And while he made no announcements about his presidential plans, he emphasized that he was eager to do whatever he could to "repair the damage that's been done to our country over the last six years" and pledged to do "my best to work with all of you to be part of the solution to what ails America."
    "There is no way that a guy from New Jersey is going to go down without swinging on this one," he added.
    Though he tried to use it as a selling point, Christie also poked fun at this tough-guy reputation. When a crash of dishes and plates briefly interrupted his speech, he deadpanned: "I had nothing to do with that."
    Christie was also asked about Common Core, a set of testing standards that have become a political flashpoint in the Republican presidential primary. Christie previously endorsed Common Core but began questioning it last year, and tasked a committee with reviewing the way it's being applied in New Jersey.
    "I believe in testing," Christie said but expressed concern about "the idea that we would federalize this" through grant incentives from the Obama administration. Christie called for a more local approach.
    The governor also tried to spell out a hardliner stance on foreign policy, knocking Hillary Clinton for hitting a so-called reset button with Russia and "told us we're moving to a new era."
    "We sure did," Christie said, also blasting President Barack Obama for what Christie called the president's "abject failure" in a foreign policy that calls for "pulling back."
    At the end, Christie was presented with a basket of maple goodies. The governor joked that his youngest son has a sweet tooth and had requested that his dad pick up some syrup in New Hampshire.
    But when he told his 11-year-old daughter earlier Monday that he was going the Granite State, he said she rolled her eyes and scoffed: "The president thing."