New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came to Kennewick on Thursday bearing the message for Eastern Washington Republicans that their voices can be heard in the Nov. 6 general election -- but it's up to them to ensure that happens.
"I want to be able to say on Nov. 6 that ... I made a difference in Washington state," Christie told a crowd at the GOP "Victory Office" where calls are being made on behalf of a number of federal, state and local Republican candidates.
The call center visit came on the heels of a lunch at the Three Rivers Convention Center, where Christie was helping raise money for Attorney General Rob McKenna's campaign for governor.
About 330 people attended the lunch, and many of them walked out at the end buzzing with excitement over Christie's speech, which was not open to the press.
John Henker of Kennewick told the Herald that Thursday's lunch was his first time seeing Christie speak, and that he was impressed with what Christie had to say about the need for fiscally conservative policies in the nation and in Washington.
"He's willing to make sacrifices to do what needs to be done," Henker said.
Christie has made national headlines in recent weeks for giving the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in Tampa about a month ago, and then for bucking traditional strategy by talking up Mitt Romney's ability as a debater instead of downplaying his party's candidate going into Wednesday's first presidential debate.
On Thursday, Christie was in the news again after declaring the debate a "wipeout" that reset Romney's recently faltering campaign.
McKenna told the Herald during the Kennewick stop Thursday that Christie "has a special ability to inspire and motivate people."
"He helps people believe in themselves," McKenna said.
He also made local Republican voters believe the party can take the governor's mansion for the first time in 28 years.
Although Democratic candidate Jay Inslee won the August primary with 47 percent of the vote -- to McKenna's 43 percent -- websites such as Politico and Ballotpedia have rated Washington's gubernatorial race a "toss-up."
McKenna on Thursday remained confident that he can beat Inslee in the general election in November.
"This is a race we're winning and are going to continue to win," he said.
Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, who attended the Thursday lunch with Christie, said that was a message local Republicans needed to hear.
"Basically he said that Eastern Washington needs to keep its voice loud and clear in who we want for the next governor," Walsh said.
Sandi Strawn of Kennewick, a former Benton County commissioner, said Christie inspired in her a belief that the culture in Washington can be changed, particularly by being a Republican governor working with a Democratic Legislature in New Jersey.
"He's a spitfire," she told the Herald. "He has done what we can do in the state of Washington. ... There's no reason we can't do the same in the state of Washington."
w Photographer Kai-Huei Yau contributed to this report.