DES MOINES, Iowa — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been silent in early voting primary states, and if he decides to join the Republican presidential race, would face the challenge of launching a campaign from a standing start.
Neither Christie nor his political team has reached out to GOP strategists or top party officials in Iowa or New Hampshire as the first-term governor reevaluates his oft-repeated refusal to seek the Republican nomination for president.
His lack of spadework would complicate an undertaking that already requires raising millions of dollars and establishing campaign operations in several states simultaneously. Adding to the challenges, Florida last week moved its primary into January, pushing the start of the 2012 nominating contests to barely three months away.
But Christie's renewed look at a presidential bid without making a round of calls even to new, influential friends in Iowa and New Hampshire reflects confidence within Christie's circle that the adoring and hungry Republican elites who have courted him can compensate for his organizational deficit with momentum.
As early as this week, Christie could announce whether he will run and reverse himself after more than a year of ruling out a candidacy. At the swearing-in ceremony of a superior court judge in Patterson, N.J., Christie remained coy Monday night, joking about coming to the ceremony "a little preoccupied."
But campaign operatives, fundraisers and veteran presidential campaign advisers in Iowa and New Hampshire say no one with Christie has contacted them in recent weeks.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who has said he was wowed by Christie's plainspoken style and call for reforming public employee benefits, would be a natural entry point for Christie in the leadoff caucus state.
But Christie and Branstad haven't talked since Christie headlined an education conference at the Iowa governor's invitation in July, said Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht.
Christie advisers have kept in loose touch with some Iowa Republicans, led by Branstad's top fundraiser Bruce Rastetter, who urged Christie to run when they met in New Jersey in May.
Rastetter declined to say whether he had recently heard from Christie.
In South Carolina, organizers close to the New Jersey governor have been making calls to key activists in the first Southern primary state to feel them out on organization and strategy.
"People who are involved in trying to get the governor to run have begun to come up with campaign plans in case he decides to run," said a South Carolina GOP leader who did not want to be identified to avoid pre-empting a possible Christie announcement. The Christie organizer "called up and said, 'If he decided to run, do you think he would be able to be competitive in South Carolina?'"
Christie buzz was even quieter in New Hampshire. The governor has visited neither New Hampshire nor South Carolina since taking office last year.
There is a sense that time is very tight for Christie to assemble a team for the 2012 contests, expected to begin about a month earlier than planned with Florida's decision to hold its primary Jan. 31. The move would likely force Iowa and New Hampshire into the early part of January.
One complication for Christie is that other campaigns — already several weeks if not months under way — have gobbled up key staff in the early contest states.
"I haven't heard from his people. And I haven't heard of anybody who's heard from any of his people," said Jennifer Horn, a leading New Hampshire activist and recent congressional candidate. "Staffing certainly will be a challenge in New Hampshire."
New Hampshire Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey is more blunt.
"It's virtually impossible" for someone like Christie, or even the better-known former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to jump into the race with voting expected to begin in less than four months, Duprey said.
Longtime Branstad confidant Richard Schwarm said the same.
"If I'd been advising Gov. Christie, I would have said it's too late before Florida moved up, now it's certainly too late," said Schwarm, a former state GOP chairman.
Despite the intense courtship from top national GOP donors, which picked up after Perry failed to impress some influential party elites in debates last month, little is known about Christie in early states. Activists are drawn to his national star power and no-nonsense public persona, but have not yet dug into his positions on social issues, such as gun, abortion and gay rights, central issues that are disproportionately influential to the early state GOP base.
"At the 30,000-foot level he looks good. But he's not being vetted as a presidential candidate yet," said New Hampshire Rep. Frank Guinta, a Republican who says he hasn't heard from Christie's camp in several months.
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