Chris Christie’s announcement Tuesday that he is not running for president should have come as no surprise.
The New Jersey governor has been saying as much for months. He argued he wasn’t ready and his heart wasn’t in it. And as time marched on, many analysts said, it was just too late to mount a credible campaign. But when push came to shove, and ardent supporters and donors got Governor Christie to step back and reconsider, the final decision centered on his home state.
“Now is not my time,” Christie said at a news conference in the New Jersey capital, Trenton. “I have a commitment to New Jersey that I simply will not abandon.”
Christie has been governor for only 20 months, but many political analysts argue that Christie could have been a formidable competitor – both as a challenger to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the GOP nomination, and to President Obama in the general election.
His blunt, no-nonsense style captured national attention soon after he won office in 2009. As a Republican governor in a Democratic state, Christie has engineered big budget cuts while working across the partisan aisle and winning concessions from labor unions.
Christie also demonstrates a passion, even anger, about the state of the country that Governor Perry and Mr. Romney have failed to match. And with the public’s trust in government at historically low levels, Christie could have pitched himself as a fighter who would get the nation back on track.
But it was not meant to be, at least not in this cycle. In his announcement Tuesday, Christie spoke repeatedly about the sense of obligation he felt to New Jersey, and to the office he ran for and won. He spoke of the deluge of pleas he had received from Americans, including a Fedex he received from a farmer in Nebraska explaining to Christie’s children that the nation needed their father.
Christie said his wife and children supported the idea of his running for president, if that was what he wanted to do. In the end, he said, he wanted to keep his commitment to the Garden State.
“My job here in New Jersey is my passion,” he said. “I’ve always meant it when I’ve said I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have this job. I’m doing a job that I love, in the state I grew up in, on behalf of the toughest and greatest people in this country.”
Christie would have entered the race as top contender. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showed a fair amount of interest in a Christie candidacy among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Forty-two percent said they wanted him to run. Among the rest, 34 percent said they did not want him to run, and 24 percent either had no opinion or did not know.
Perhaps 42 percent was not a groundswell, but a lot of Americans are still not focused on the race. As a candidate, Christie would have gotten major media attention and could have built up a constituency quickly. When included in a hypothetical primary matchup with the rest of the GOP field, the Post-ABC poll found Christie got 10 percent, behind Romney (21 percent), businessman Herman Cain (16 percent), and Perry (16 percent).
Without Christie in the race, Romney still polls first – but at only 25 percent. The lack of a consensus among GOP voters and Perry’s fading star have left a clear opening for a new, strong candidate. But with Christie’s opt-out, the GOP field is likely set.
The only other major Republican who has hinted at a run and not announced either way is former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But polls of Republican voters show that most would not be willing to vote for her for the Republican nomination.
Christie, on the other hand, had plenty of room to grow. And if he had run, he would likely have taken more votes away from Romney than the more conservative candidates in the field, such as Perry and Mr. Cain. The Post-ABC poll showed that 47 percent of moderate/liberal Republicans wanted Christie to run. Among conservatives, 39 percent wanted him in the race.
Even if Christie had found the fire in the belly to run, time had grown exceedingly short. Late last week, time got even shorter, when Florida announced it was moving its primary to Jan. 31. That maneuver is likely to mean that the four earliest nominating states will all push their contests into January, or even December 2011, in the case of New Hampshire. Filing deadlines for those early primaries are just a few weeks away.
Money may have been the least of Christie’s worries. He would have needed to start competing in debates immediately, and could easily have been tripped up on issues that are of lesser concern to an East Coast governor, such as foreign policy. Perry’s late entry into the race on Aug. 13 and his subsequent stumbles have shown Christie the perils of running without long advance preparation.