Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey announced today that he will not run for president, ending a period of intense courtship by Republican donors and party elders that exposed a lingering dissatisfaction with the current field of GOP presidential contenders.
“Now is not my time,’’ Christie said at a news conference at the New Jersey State House in Trenton. “I have a commitment to New Jersey that I simply will not abandon.’’
Christie had declared multiple times that he would not seek the presidency, but acknowledged today that he began quietly reconsidering his decision after private and public entreaties from influential Republican fund-raisers and party elders. He said his wife, Mary Pat, and children were “completely behind me’’ if he wanted to run but he decided against it last night.
“So New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me,’’ he said, drawing laughter from the assembled media.
Though rejecting a run for president, he didn’t rule out running for the vice presidency, and he seemed to savor his time in the national spotlight, taking questions for more than 45 minutes in a news conference broadcast live on major networks.
Among those who had reportedly encouraged him to run were Nancy Reagan, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, and William Kristol. Barbara Bush reportedly called Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, to soothe her anxiety about a presidential campaign. And Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels declared last month that he was “not taking ‘no’’’ from his friend in Trenton.
The enthusiasm for a Christie candidacy was a reflection of his popularity among Republicans.
But it also underscored how the longtime frontrunner, Mitt Romney, has yet to win over a certain segment of the GOP elite, despite positioning himself as the consensus choice of that wing of the party.
Romney has raised more money than any other candidate in the field, emphasized his businesses background, released a 160-page jobs plan, and polls show the former Massachusetts governor would be the strongest contender against President Obama.
And yet, time and again, he has had to endure the awkward spectacle of Republican leaders pining for a new candidate to jump in the race. First, it was Daniels, then Texas Governor Rick Perry, and then Christie.
The phenomenon, Republicans said, reflects a yearning for a candidate who can excite voters and donors, by winning their hearts, not just their heads.
And, in Christie, some party insiders thought they had found their man.
Big, bellicose, and seemingly unvarnished, he is something of the anti-Romney, with his buttoned-down, boardroom style.
When state government was on the verge of shutting down, for example, a disgusted Christie declared he was going to go home, “open a beer, order a pizza, and watch the Mets.’’ And when Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the Jersey Shore, he bellowed, “Get the hell off the beach!’’
“What people are really looking for today is authenticity, and they like bold and brash, especially on the Republican side right now,’’ said Mark McKinnon, a Republican political strategist who has worked for George W. Bush and John McCain and was among those encouraging Christie to run. “That’s why there was an initial attraction to Rick Perry. And Chris Christie is bold and brash.’’
Romney, by contrast, “is seen as more cautious and safer,’’ McKinnon said.
David A. Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, said Christie’s clashes with unions and budget cutting in New Jersey “has made him something of a folk hero’’ — a term that would not likely be applied to Romney, a former venture capitalist.
“A lot of the establishment Republicans like the idea of Chris Christie because he appeals to the Tea Party types without being one of them, and therefore they see him as somebody who can grab the popular imagination,’’ said Keene, the former chairman of the American Conservative Union, who had endorsed Romney during his last bid for the presidency but has not backed any candidate this time.
Christie became an increasingly attractive candidate after Perry, despite an explosive entrance into the race, stumbled in debates and plummeted in polls, Republicans said.
“There is a void on the populist right that is waiting to be filled,’’ said Craig Shirley, a writer and Reagan biographer, who worked briefly for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Romney backers, at least publicly, had said they were not bothered by all the clamor for a Christie candidacy.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily that they don’t like Mitt; I think it’s just that they’re attracted to Chris Christie because of the job he’s done as governor,’’ said Trent Lott, the former senator from Mississippi who is backing Romney. “And if Christie did get in there, here he would come in under scrutiny because of all his previous statements and positions, and he’d have some problems, too.’’