Both Republicans and Democrats across the political spectrum braced Sunday for what could be a game-changer in the race for the presidency: a decision by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on whether he's going to declare himself a Republican candidate.
On the Sunday morning talk shows, potential rivals landed some early blows while GOP wise men like U.S. Sen. John McCain and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour touted the former prosecutor as a serious contender.
"Let's remember he's starting from way behind in fundraising and organization and other areas," said McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 Republican presidential candidate
"If Gov. Christie decides to run, I wish him luck. I think that there is a bit of a caution. It always -- the swimming pool looks a lot better until you jump right in. The water may not be quite as warm as you think," McCain said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who's been named as a potential running mate to the Republican pick, whoever it is. McDonnell, who appeared with Patrick on NBC's "Meet the Press," said Christie offers "unique" qualities to the nine-strong mix of GOP candidates.
"He's an extraordinary communicator. He's a great governor, enormous reforms and everything from the pension system to budget reform in a blue state," he said, adding that he'd be surprised if Christie got in, but he "would fare very well against the president."
One would-be opponent say the New Jersey governor's track record isn't something to brag about.
"I believe that a lot of conservatives, once they know his positions .... they're not going to be able to support him. So, I think that is absolutely a liability for him if he gets in the race," said businessman Herman Cain, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Chris Christie’s potential bid for president is not a reflection of the Republican Party’s dissatisfaction with the current field of candidates.
“I think it’s a token of the regard that people have for Chris Christie,” Barbour said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This is more an effect of people liking Christie.”
Barbour said he has “no idea” whether the New Jersey governor is going to join the race.
When asked by host Candy Crowley whether any of the GOP contenders has a “fatal flaw,” he said no.
“You could name three fatal flaws that Jimmy Carter had in 1975, or that Bill Clinton had in 1991,” he said. “At the end of the day, the election next year will be a referendum on the presidency of Barack Obama. I don't think any of our candidates have a fatal flaw, but certainly none of them is perfect.”
Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., suggested that Christie may be damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.
"The difficulty in running for president is like committing suicide. There's not a lot of good choices there. And you have to be very prepared for the outcome," Becerra said.
After long saying he wouldn't run, sources close to Chris Christie say he is reconsidering his decision to stay out of the race for the White House in 2012 and is expected to make a decision soon.
Those close to the first-term governor, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, say he is rethinking his hard stance.
A decision will have to come fast as the filing deadlines for primary states are weeks away and Christie would need to put together a campaign team in just a matter of weeks.
Calls have been intensifying from top GOP donors and party elders for Christie to jump into the race. President Barack Obama's weak approval ratings and a Republican field that has been struggling to put forward a clear front-runner are also creating an opening for Christie.
Meanwhile, according to a New York Times report, the Christie camp is busy with preparing for the many contingencies that would be triggered if their boss finally decides to toss his hat in the ring.
Issue number one: how to quickly ramp-up political operations in Iowa and New Hampshire. In the broader view, his strategists — many alumni of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s 2008 campaign — are tallying the financial and practical challenges of kick-starting a challenge late in the game, reveals the NY Times report.
“They’re getting their arms around what’s going to be required,” one insider operative told the Times. “What does an operation look like? What are the requirements in each of the states? What are the things that need to be done before we talk about people and résumés and office space?”
Staffers were quick to qualify to the Times that the current yeoman's labors were but obligatory “due diligence” should Christie elect to run. One senior staffer revealed that a campaign could be fired up in 24 hours if the trumpet sounds.
Christie may think twice about moving forward, however. GOP latecomers have jumped in to see a big initial splash, only to tread water.
Michele Bachmann leapfrogged ahead of Mitt Romney only to be pushed back when Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined the field in August after months of insisting he had no interest. But after two shaky performances at debates, Perry now, too, seems vulnerable to getting picked off.
Unlike Perry, Christie is most at home behind a podium and seems to relish debate -- most often with the press corps.
New Jersey's pugnacious governor has been asked about his presidential aspirations practically since taking the oath of office in January 2010. But until this week, he has swatted down the idea repeatedly, consistently and colorfully.
He said he wouldn't run because he wasn't ready, because his wife wouldn't let him and because "I'm not crazy, that's why." A more famous reply came about a year ago when he said that "short of suicide" he wasn't sure what he could say to convince people that he's not running.
But after a whirlwind week campaigning and fundraising in Missouri, Louisiana and California, which included a speech on Tuesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in which the characteristically blunt Christie repeatedly criticized Obama, he started to dial back his denials -- he stopped saying he wasn't ready to be president and started referring reporters to previous statements.
When asked about running, Christie urged a capacity audience gathered at the Reagan Library to look at the website Politico, which had pieced together a long string of video clips of him saying he's not a candidate for the White House.
"Those are the answers," he told the crowd.
Christie later said he was flattered by suggestions that he should run in 2012 but said the decision "has to reside inside me."
"And so, my answer to you is just this: I thank you for what you are saying, and I take it in and I'm listening to every word of it and feeling it to," he added.
Later in the week, he dialed up his criticism of the president.
"If you're looking for leadership in America, you're not going to find it in the Oval Office," Christie said at a rally in Louisiana before a fundraiser.
Before the speech at the Reagan library, Christie's brother, Todd, told The Star-Ledger of Newark that there was no change in Christie's decision to run.
"I'm sure that he's not going to run," Todd Christie said. "If he's lying to me, I'll be as stunned as I've ever been in my life."
But after the speech, Christie's inner circle clamped down and Christie didn't make any other public comments about it.
A short primary season could make it tough to organize a campaign in time, but Christie has been making inroads with big money donors and media moguls.
He was the keynote speaker this summer for a retreat held by the billionaire oil tycoon brothers David and Charles Koch. This week he held a fundraiser at the California home of Meg Whitman, the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., who lost last year to Democrat Jerry Brown in the governor's race. Last summer, Christie met with the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes at Ailes' home.
A large part of Christie's hesitation to run has been his family. He has four children, ages 18 to 8. At a Sept. 22 event with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who was also courted but said no to a 2012 bid, Christie said it just wasn't the right time for him.
"It got to be something that you and your family really believes is not only the right thing to do, but I think what you must do at that time in your life both for you and for your country," Christie, 49, said. "And for me, the answer to that is that it isn't."
But he and his wife have been reassured recently that White House life isn't that bad. Months ago, former first lady Barbara Bush made a call to Christie's wife, Mary Pat, to encourage her to think about a presidential campaign, and Nancy Reagan also encouraged Christie when they sat together at the library.
The weeklong trip was a clear success for him, advisers said. It was also long planned. Nancy Reagan sent out an invitation for him to speak at the library this winter, and Christie made a similar fundraising trip last year around election season.
Christie's longtime friend, former law partner and adviser Bill Palatucci traveled to California with the governor and said there was no doubt it was inspiring.
"Many, many well-wishers who know the governor's record and are congratulating him on his record in office," Palatucci said after their stops in St. Louis. "Everyone from hotel staff, airport workers and those who attend the events responding that they know him and like his message."
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