Republican Field Taking Final Shape With Christie’s Decision

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announces his decision to forgo candidacy in the Republican primary race for president at a a news conference at the Statehouse on Oct. 4, 2011 in Trenton, New Jersey. Photographer: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision not to seek the presidency removes one of the last lingering questions surrounding the Republican presidential field just three months before the first round of voting is to begin.

“Now is not my time,” Christie told reporters in Trenton, the New Jersey capital, yesterday. “New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me.”

With Christie out of the running, Republican leaders said it’s time to pick a candidate from those already in the race rather than continue to look for a fresh face. “I think the field is set,” said Charlie Black, a veteran Republican campaign strategist who is neutral in the 2012 race.

The most immediate beneficiary of Christie’s decision may be former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is making his second presidential bid. Some of Christie’s well-heeled backers said they now would be supporting Romney, giving his campaign an infusion of Wall Street dollars.

“It’s over,” said billionaire supermarket executive John Catsimatidis, a Christie backer who now plans to support Romney.

The effort by those who had urged Christie, 49, to enter the presidential race reflected a continued uneasiness within the party with Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry, who have traded off as the frontrunners in national polls.

Awaiting Palin

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is the only high-profile Republican still publicly weighing a presidential candidacy. She has made little effort to build support in key caucus and primary states, and few party leaders see her as a strong contender.

Ballot deadlines also are looming in the nomination race: Candidates must file by Oct. 28 to be listed in New Hampshire, site of the first primary.

Christie’s stature and ties to Wall Street kept a group of major New York and New Jersey fundraisers on the sidelines as they awaited his decision.

The push by these Republican and others, including former first lady Nancy Reagan and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, for Christie to enter the primary field increased following stumbles by Perry in a nationally televised debate on Sept. 22.

Kenneth Langone, co-founder of Home Depot who had urged Christie to run, said yesterday he expected a number of uncommitted Republicans from the business community to now sign up with Romney’s campaign.

‘Allegiance’ to Romney

“Governor Romney just called me a little while ago, and I’ve sworn my allegiance to him,” said Langone in an interview with Charlie Rose broadcast on PBS and Bloomberg Television. Veteran Republican fundraiser Georgette Mosbacher, among those urging Christie to run, told the website Capital New York she now will back Romney.

A national poll released yesterday showed Perry’s support dropping after weeks of having to defend his political record since he declared his candidacy on Aug. 13. In the Washington Post-ABC News survey conducted Sept. 29-Oct. 2, Romney led among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents with 25 percent, followed by Perry and businessman Herman Cain at 16 percent.

Perry had led a similar poll last month with 29 percent to Romney’s 25 percent.

A CBS News poll also showed Perry dropping, Cain rising and Romney static. Romney and Cain were tied in the survey of Republican primary voters -- conducted Sept. 28-Oct. 2 -- at 17 percent, while Perry was third with 12 percent.

In a similar poll two weeks ago, Perry led with 23 percent, while Romney had 16 percent support and Cain 5 percent.

Illegal Immigration

Perry found himself on the defensive after saying in the Sept. 22 debate that those who opposed the in-state tuition rates for children of illegal immigrants in Texas that he has supported as governor don’t “have a heart.” Last week, while standing by the program, he said he “probably chose a poor word to explain that.”

In the CBS poll, just 10 percent of Republican voters said they agreed with in-state tuition for illegal-immigrant children. Critics of the program say it serves as a magnet spurring illegal immigration to the U.S. from Central and South America.

Romney advisers had dismissed the fervor for Christie as the 11th-hour yearnings of a party on the brink of getting serious about choosing a candidate.

As reports surfaced in recent days that Christie was reconsidering his past declarations that he wouldn’t run for president, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse categorized the effort as the “grass-is-always-greener run-up to the real primaries.”

‘He’s Right Here’

Referring to Romney, Newhouse said, “At least some Republican leaders keep looking around for another candidate and the right person, and our position is well, he’s right there.”

Christie is the latest sitting Republican governor to decline a presidential run after being courted by party leaders.

In May, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said that, while he was interested in running, he couldn’t overcome his family’s objections. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour announced in April he wasn’t running, saying he lacked the “absolute fire in the belly” to join the race.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a major contender for the Republican nomination in 2008 who hosts a program on Fox News, also declined to mount a bid.

Christie, at his news conference yesterday, said he made his final decision not to run on the night of Oct. 3. He said he then went to bed “for the first time in a few days knowing exactly what I wanted to do.”

New Jersey Record

He said he interpreted the pressure on him to enter the race to “what we accomplished” in New Jersey during his time as its chief executive.

Christie’s standing in national Republican circles grew after he cut $10 billion in projected spending on schools, public pensions and aid to cities in his first budget.

Talk of a Christie presidential bid intensified after he used a Sept. 27 speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, to comment on foreign policy and defense, while attacking President Barack Obama and Congress over gridlock in Washington.

Still, his late entry into the race would have posed a major challenge. Christie trailed behind his rivals in fundraising and organizing in key early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. A decision by Florida Republicans last week to move their state’s primary to Jan. 31 will move the Iowa and New Hampshire contests into the early part of the month --if not sooner -- which would have left Christie with little time to catch up.

Positive Way

He also would have needed to frame his record in a positive way before his adversaries could do otherwise. Christie’s positions on issues such as illegal immigration, civil unions for same-sex couples and gun-owners’ rights break with the party’s conservative orthodoxy and are opposed by key portions of the Republican base.

“Voters don’t have a long relationship with Christie,” said Jim Dyke, a South Carolina-based Republican strategist. “Their knowledge of him is less than inch deep.”

Christie yesterday declined to endorse any of his party’s presidential contenders, while urging them all to take a tougher positions on fiscal issues.

He also scoffed at speculation that he would be a top contender for vice president, though he declined to say he wouldn’t accept the position.

“I don’t imagine I’m going to be asked,” Christie said. “I just don’t think I have the personality” for the running-mate post. “Seriously, can you imagine? The guy would probably want to get a food taster.”