ORLANDO, Fla. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry says that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would be a formidable competitor who would strengthen the GOP presidential field aligning against President Barack Obama.
In an Associated Press interview, Perry responded to a Newsmax story published Friday that indicated Christie is strongly considering a presidential bid at the behest of major GOP donors.
"I see anybody that gets in the race that believes in America and is a small government but efficient government individual, I would welcome into the race. It just strengthens the point that the Republican Party's all about getting our country working again. Whoever that is," Perry said of Christie.
"And I'm also a big believer in these governors being freed up to be able to compete against each other. Chris Christie is a great competitor — and I'll be up there, you know, in Jersey, looking for some businesses to move to Texas."
On Friday, Newsmax broke the story that Christie, despite the protestations of some aides, is indicating that he might be inclined to run.
Editor's Note: See "Christie Reconsidering '12 Run, Will Decide Within Days"
Several leading Republican donors and fundraisers have been urging the popular Republican governor to reconsider his decision not to run and to enter the GOP primary, Newsmax reported.
These Christie supporters note that significant GOP support has remained on the sidelines of the primary fight. Many leading fundraisers have yet to commit to any current primary contender, including frontrunners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.
Newsmax also learned that the effort to draft Christie culminated in a hush-hush powwow held in the past week with Christie and several notable Republican billionaires.
A source familiar with the meeting suggested that Christie seemed inclined to enter the race but said he needed more time.
Perry lost a key test vote in Florida to businessman Herman Cain on Saturday after making a strong effort to win. Perry's second-place finish in the straw poll came just days after he faltered in a debate in Orlando, Fla.
On Sunday, Perry came in second to former Masschusett Gov. Mitt Romney in the Michigan Straw Poll. Romney won the poll of GOP activists Sunday during the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. He won 51 percent of the 681 votes cast, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry earned 17 percent. Both candidates spoke at the conference Saturday.
Activists at the Florida test vote kept bringing Christie up as a possible contender. Merick Lewin, who owns a marketing company in Davie, Fla., said he believes it's a two-person race — unless Christie runs.
"He's tough. He's strong. He could really shake this up, especially if Rick Perry implodes," Lewin said.
Christie insisted just this Thursday that he does not plan to run for president in 2012. Bill Palatucci, Christie's longtime friend and political adviser, told the AP on Saturday night, "Nothing has changed."
But the more intense discussions of a Christie candidacy are further evidence that Perry's bid could be in trouble.
Perry’s defense of in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants put him on the wrong side of the GOP's conservative base. His rivals worked to exploit his opposition to a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border and his support of a mandatory vaccine for girls against a sexually transmitted disease.
Cain captured 37.1 percent of the vote at Saturday's Presidency 5 straw poll in Orlando, with Perry coming in second with 15.4 percent. Mitt Romney came in third with14 percent and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania followed with 10.88 percent.
Previous straw polls have predicted the GOP nominee.
Ronald Reagan won in 1979, George H.W. Bush in 1987 and Kansas Sen. Bob Dole in 1995. The Republican Party of Florida, however, has not organized the test vote in recent years.
After the vote, Perry released a statement congratulating Cain. His spokesman, Mark Miner, acknowledged his debate performance played a role in the straw poll vote, but insisted the campaign would not change strategy.
"He's the commander in chief, not the debater in chief," Miner said.
Cain's speech Saturday energized the attending activists. "Let's send Washington a message: We the people are still in charge of this country. Not we, the bureaucrats. Not we, the government," Cain told the conference.
Santorum said delegates should stand with "someone who can win the election, someone who is a consistent, authentic conservative ... who has proved they can win in states that we have to win."
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