The first two GOP presidential debates did not help or hurt Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign. He remained in 10th place in the crowded Republican field according to Real Clear Politics, which averaged the five most recent national polls.

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie onstage during the Republican presidential debates at the Reagan Library. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The same source placed Christie in ninth in the key early primary state of New Hampshire. Political experts said the governor might be able to help himself in the third debate, scheduled for Wednesday night.

“Since this is going to be about the economy, he’s going to brag about no new taxes on his watch, fixing the public pension funds, his efforts to keep businesses in New Jersey,” said Peter Woolley, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “He is vulnerable too so, it’ll be interesting to see whether anybody thinks he’s important enough to attack his vulnerabilities.”

The Garden State’s credit rating has been downgraded a record nine times during Christie’s term, the Transportation Trust Fund is on pace to go bankrupt July 1, 2016, economic development lags neighboring states and New Jersey still has the highest property taxes in the nation. Woolley said those were areas where Christie is open to criticism.

“I’ll be watching to see if anybody pushes back on Christie because if they push back on Christie it’s a sign that they think he’s a contender. If nobody pushes back on him then I think that’s a sign that they don’t think he’s a contender,” Woolley said.

It’s not so much that Christie has to beat Donald Trump or Ben Carson. It’s more a matter of which establishment candidates emerge to set themselves apart from the pack, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“So, he (Christie) is fighting against Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich for that mantle and they’re all bunched up together. They’re within a few points of each particularly in the state of New Hampshire,” Murray said.

The poll numbers in New Hampshire for candidates not named Trump (29.5 percent) or Carson (14 percent) according to Real Clear Politics were:

  • Jeb Bush (9.0 percent)
  • Marco Rubio (8.3 percent)
  • Carly Fiorina (7.8 percent)
  • John Kasich (7.0 percent)
  • Ted Cruz (5.5 percent)
  • Rand Paul (4.3 percent)
  • Chris Christie (3.3 percent)

“Chris Christie is not going to go for the jab or the kind of snarky comment because those things are not going to do him well. It’s not a night for a big win. It’s a night for people to say, ‘Oh by the way, Chris Christie was really policy-centric tonight,’ and hope that’s the story that spins out from this,” Murray predicted.

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at kevin.mcardle@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.