Refusing to bow to the growing clamor in Republican circles, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced on Tuesday that he will not enter the race for the White House.
Citing his commitment to his current job, Christie made it clear that he will give his unequivocal backing to whoever is finally chosen for the Republican run at President Barack Obama.
Now experts say that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, back ahead in the opinion polls after Rick Perry’s faltering, is the one who will benefit most. Herman Cain is likely to get a boost in polls as well, they say.
“There’s no question Romney is breathing the biggest sigh of relief,” Larry Sabato, the well-respected director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics told Newsmax. “Christie would have split the more moderate vote in New Hampshire – an absolutely essential state for Romney to win.”
Christie’s decision means that the Republican field is now almost certainly set. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has made no moves to address a late entry after missing her self-imposed deadline to declare at the weekend.
With states moving up primary dates in light of Florida’s decision to hold its on January 31, time has become critical. “There's no law against Sarah Palin or anybody else jumping in--but there is a reality that the odds are now enormous that new candidates won't have enough time to organize an effective campaign,” said Sabato.
“Florida blew up the calendar for its own purposes, but one effect is to seal off the current challengers from more competition.”
American Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Karlyn Bowman said Texas Gov. Rick Perry would be seen as the biggest loser as interest in a Christie candidacy would have pushed him out of the headlines for a few weeks.
“Perry could certainly benefit by being out of the spotlight for a week or so,” Bowman told Newsmax. “Romney’s been through it before, we know the warts. This is Perry’s first time through, and it’s always difficult and clearly it is for Perry. So he probably would have benefited greatly for some time away from the spotlight.”
Meanwhile Democratic pollster Doug Schoen said Christie’s decision opens the door for former pizza magnate Herman Cain, whose 9-9-9 plan has given him a boost in recent days.
“Romney is frozen at 25 percent. Perry is sinking ... and Herman Cain is the only outsider offering a plan, a strategy, a message, and a path for America,” Schoen told Newsmax. “He may not be the nominee, but he is the only candidate who has momentum.”
In making his decision to stay in Drumthwacket, the New Jersey Governor’s mansion, Christie rebuffed some of his own party’s heaviest hitters including Nancy Reagan, Henry Kissinger and former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, all of whom are said to have pressed him to change his mind.
Speaking in the New Jersey state capital Trenton, Christie said he had never changed his mind about running, but because of the pressure he had reconsidered in the past few weeks, only making his final decision Monday night.
“But in the end what I always felt was the right decision remains the right decision today. Now is not the time.”
He said that at the weekend he received a FedEx from a farmer in Nebraska who had written to his four children saying that they had to sacrifice because America needed their father in the White House. That he said was one of many letters his family had received.
He said his wife Mary Pat had told him that the decision was his alone and she and the children would live with it. “It really was not a family decision. In the end they put it on me and told me I had to decide, which I did.”
Christie repeatedly said he loved New Jersey and talked about his happiness in his job, “The deciding factor to me, in my gut was not to leave when the job here is not finished.
“This is not the time to leave unfinished business for me,” he added. “New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you are stuck with me.”
Reaction to Christie’s decision was swift. “Dream dating is over. It's time to love the one your with," the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza quoted GOP consultant Mark McKinnon as saying, in reference to the perceived lack of enthusiasm among Republicans for the other candidates.
Even before Christie’s announcement, Romney had firmly established himself back as the front-runner in the Republican field. A new poll released on Tuesday showed he had opened up a 7 percentage point lead over Cain and Perry.
The Washington Post-ABC News poll gave Romney 21 percent among Republicans and GOP-leaning Independents with Cain and Perry tied at 14 percent. It had assumed that Christie would enter the race and put him in fourth at 10 percent.
A separate question showed 42 percent of Republicans wanted him to join the race, while 34 percent said they did not want him to run. The remaining 24 percent either had no opinion or did not know.
Christie has said all along that he would not run in 2012, at one point asking, “What do I have to do short of suicide to convince people I’m not running? You have to believe in your heart soul and mind that you’re ready. And I don’t believe that in myself right now.”
However pressure from donors and party activists grew following a warmly received speech he gave a week ago at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. in which he accused Obama of being a “bystander.”
Even during that speech he again said he would not be a candidate, directing the audience to an Internet montage of him saying “no” numerous times.
But that failed to quell the whispers which had been fueled when his long-time friend, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean telling the National Review, “He’s giving it a lot of thought. I think the odds are a lot better now than they were a couple weeks ago.
“More and more people are talking to him,” added Kean. “He’s getting appeals from major figures around the country.”
Nevertheless, Christie remained equivocal about the whole campaign process, telling a forum last Thursday of his dread of being “in a hotel room in Des Moines and its 5:30 in the morning and it's 15 below, and it's time for me to get up and go shake hands at the meatpacking plant.”
Christie’s possible candidacy has been the main item of interest in the Republican race for the past few weeks as many Republicans worry that none of the declared candidates may be strong enough to defeat Obama.
Romney, long leading in the polls, fell behind when Perry entered the race in mid-August, but after a series of lackluster appearances at presidential debates, the Texan has fallen back.
Now Cain, the former chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has shot up in the polls, with his 9-9-9 plan – which would cut income and corporate taxes to 9 percent while instituting a national sales tax at the same rate – credited for his surge.
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