Christie leaves door open to presidential run

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Asked directly by the debate moderator about his presidential aspirations — already the subject of fierce speculation within New Jersey and nationwide — Christie joked that he "didn't anticipate" the question at all.

“Listen, my mother told me a long time ago … do the job you have at the moment the best you possibly can, and the future will take care of itself,” he went on. “The fact is, there have been people talking about me running for president since 2010 and they all said I would do it in 2012 and I said I wouldn’t and I didn’t. And the fact is after 2017 I’m going to be looking for another job anyway."

“I am not going to declare tonight for you or for anybody else that I am or I’m not running for president,” he said. “I can walk and chew gum at the same time. I can do this job and also deal with my future.”

He added that he wouldn't "make decisions until I have to."

Christie's potential run for president in 2016 has become a central focus for Democrats in the gubernatorial race, who, in fundraising pleas and campaign attacks, have characterized a defeat of the popular governor this November as the first and best step towards preventing his ascension to the White House.

Still, Christie maintains a monumental double-digit lead in most polls of the race — most recently, a survey from Farleigh Dickinson University gave him a 33-point lead — and is expected to easily coast to reelection.

Christie's Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, said at the debate that it “doesn’t bother me that you are running for president, it bothers me how you are running for president,” accusing him of "cater[ing] to the NRA" and charging he vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood because he's beholden to conservatives.

She also charged that Christie was “compromising and sacrificing the dignity of our gay brothers and sisters by vetoing marriage equality because you know that would kill you” with GOP primary voters in 2016.

Christie hit back, declaring that "the only person obsessed with 2016 on this stage is Sen. Buono."

He also defended his famously blunt style — Christie is known to throw out jabs at politicians or constituents who disagree with him — as what voters want when asked if he's "sapping the dignity out of the office" of the governor.

“No. In fact, quite the opposite. What the people of New Jersey want is someone who’s real, and will tell them the truth as he sees it, and that’s what I’ve done for four years," he said. "And that’s what I’ve done – told them the truth. Sometimes truth they didn’t necessarily want to hear, but that’s what leadership is about … it’s about telling the truth as you see it.

“At the end of the day from my perspective, I think if people had a choice between pre-packaged, blow dried politicians or people who just say it the way it is I think they would take the latter,” he said.