Christie’s late ‘no’ sets GOP primary field

The Republican presidential field essentially became set Tuesday when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ruled out a last-minute presidential bid.

“Now that GOP voters know they can't take Cinderella to the ball, they’re going to have to settle for one of her sisters,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist who advised Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden, lawmakers start down a road with infrastructure MORE’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign.


Although Christie had repeatedly vowed not to run, Republican donors and operatives continued to argue he was the only person capable of overtaking President Obama, rectifying the sputtering economy and restoring sense to the U.S. fiscal system.

But he ended those dreams Tuesday in a 45-minute press conference, saying definitively that he won’t be a presidential candidate in 2012.

“New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me,” Christie said at the New Jersey statehouse.

The obstacles Christie would have faced, had he entered the race this late in the season, underscored the likelihood that his decision marks the end of the Republican hopes for a “white knight” candidate to swoop in and rescue a GOP field that has been characterized by false starts and flame-outs. 

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has left the door open for a last-minute run, and Republicans have publicly daydreamed about others, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Senators reintroduce bill to block NATO withdrawal New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations MORE — both of whom have ruled out bids.

“The race will stabilize for a while, but Iowa and New Hampshire are still poised to throw some surprises our way,” McKinnon said.

For now, Christie’s exit from the presidential picture has left behind a Republican base that appears to be roughly coalescing behind two threads of the GOP field.

On one side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads a slate of socially middle-of-the-road, establishment candidates that also includes former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

On the other side, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is at the head of a pack of Tea Party-influenced candidates from the South and Midwest, including businessman Herman Cain and Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannBoehner says he voted for Trump, didn't push back on election claims because he's retired Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE (R-Minn.).

Romney and his camp had the most to lose from a Christie campaign, because the New Jersey governor appealed to the same base of supporters as Romney: Republicans from the Northeast and West, social centrists turned off by an overt focus on condemning personal behaviors and independents disenchanted with Democrats on economic policy.

With Christie’s absence from the field now certain, the attention turns to which candidate can pick up the supporters and donors who had been holding out in case he ran.

Home Depot founder Kenneth Langone, one of Christie's most enthusiastic backers, announced his support for Romney in the hours after Christie bowed out, Langone's spokesman confirmed.

“The Upper West Side/McLean, Va., Republican establishment and major donor base was waiting on Christie,” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist. “Now they’re either going to get in behind Perry or Romney, or they’re going to stay out and do other things until there’s a nominee.”

Mackowiak said the third-quarter fundraising numbers that are due in mid-October would put even more distance between the two front-runners and the rest of the candidates, and support would continue solidifying behind Perry and Romney. Mackowiak has donated to Perry’s campaign.

Christie’s endorsement became an even more coveted prize once it became clear he would not seek the nomination himself. He declined to endorse one of the remaining candidates Tuesday, but did not rule out endorsing later in the cycle. He also did not rule out a run for president in 2016.

“What I care about is that the country is better, and I think the country will be better if we make sure Obama is a one-termer,” he said.

Most of the major candidates have visited Christie in New Jersey to seek his nod, and his approval will carry major influence among his vocal base of supporters across the country. As speculation that Christie might run ramped up in recent weeks, candidates were careful in interviews not to criticize him directly, lest they jeopardize their chances of securing his endorsement.

That prudence continued after he nixed a possible run on Tuesday. Huntsman issued a statement calling Christie a “tremendous public servant” but characterizing himself as the only candidate who could be the standard-bearer for serious solutions. And Romney said Tuesday afternoon that Christie would have been a fine competitor and a welcome addition to the field.

The clamoring for Christie to run for president started soon after he inhabited the governor’s office in January 2010 and fashioned a national reputation for himself as a no-nonsense, brusque leader with a penchant for slashing the size of government and a willingness to strong-arm New Jersey’s Democratic leaders in the Legislature to get it done.

But during the past two weeks, as reports exploded in the national media that Christie was reconsidering, the usually forthright governor started ducking the question, evading reporters and referring to previous statements without granting the sound bites needed to dampen the speculation.

“Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought long and hard about this decision,” Christie said Tuesday. “In the end, what I’ve always felt was the right decision remains the right decision today. Now is not my time.”

Had he stepped into the race, Christie would have been positioned to be seriously competitive, both against the rest of the GOP field and against Obama.

A Quinnipiac University poll released the same day as his announcement showed Christie and Romney tied with 17 percent in a primary, with Cain and Perry trailing behind. In a Christie-Obama match-up, the hard-hitting governor led with 45 percent to Obama’s 42, within the margin of error.