Chris Christie's Long Moment In The Sun A Boon For New Jersey GOP

WASHINGTON -- Chris Christie loves the spotlight.

The New Jersey governor ended a year's worth of speculation about whether he'd run for president with a marathon press conference where he took roughly 50 minutes to explain his decision.

"I had an obligation to seriously consider what people were asking me to do," Christie said, referring to the requests from big-money donors, party activists and conservative leaders that he revisit his past rejections of the idea.

"In the end what I always thought was the right decision remains the right decision today: now is not my time," he said.

The press conference went far afield at points, with Christie commenting on a range of topics, including his weight and his chances of winning if he had run.

"That's when I knew I could actually win -- when all these people started shooting at me before I even got in the race," he said. "That's when you know you got something special."

Of his weight, which has ballooned during his time as governor, Christie shrugged questions off: "It is what it is."

"I'm not particularly self-conscious about this. It's not a newsflash to me that I'm overweight," he said, and then discussed for several minutes the merits of the jokes on late night comedy shows about the topic.

Christie's refusal to run ends a boomlet of publicity and attention over the last few weeks, and he appeared none too eager to give it up. But in the wake of the decision, one question that looms large is why he took so long to decide.

Even though there was almost zero evidence over the last several days that Christie would run, he said Tuesday that he did not make a final decision until Monday night. Over the past week, he and his closest advisers went into lock-down. His confidantes, after talking freely to The Huffington Post and many other outlets for much of the past year, went silent.

There was, however, never much to suggest the Christie camp was taking active steps to prepare for a possible candidacy.

"I was never led to believe that he was really, legitimately close to getting in," said one long-time Republican operative with ties to several Christie advisers. Mike Dennehy, a veteran Republican consultant in New Hampshire who has worked with Christie political adviser Mike Duhaime, told HuffPost that he also had not heard anything from the Christie camp.

So since Christie's speech at the Reagan library in California a week ago -- where he clearly and very publicly opened the door to a possible run -- the governor and his family continued to take their time to come to a decision, even though he said they had been mulling it over for several weeks. Of course such a big decision requires careful thought, but they pushed it to the limit.

However, stringing the national press along for a full week also helped Christie's fundraising swing across the country, which was aimed at padding the state party's coffers in advance of fall elections for the local legislature. New Jersey GOP leaders said that Christie's last and final flirtation with a candidacy -- coming in the closing days of the fundraising quarter -- was a boon to the state GOP coffers.

"I think it's been a net positive to the Republican Party in New Jersey," said a senior Republican official in the state. "It has multiplied several-fold the governor's ability to raise money for the state GOP in key legislative races."

The source said the state GOP had grossed $2 million three weeks ago and aimed to raise another million by the end of September.

"People flocked to see him in hope he'll be the candidate," the source said, noting that a $5,200 a head fundraiser for the New Jersey GOP was packed Tuesday morning.

The governor has dominated the state GOP for the last two years, and the attention garnered by recent speculation was a windfall for his local goals. Christie has been trying to flip the Democratic-controlled legislature during the 2011 mid-term elections -- more specifically, to narrow the gap in the state Senate, where Democrats currently have a 24-16 edge. New Jersey's Senate wields power over Christie's nominations, and the governor has battled Senate Democrats over a variety of nominees over the past two years.

State Republicans have centered their hopes on picking up seats in the Atlantic City region, the Trenton suburbs and north Jersey's Bergen County to narrow the gap to 21-19, with the hopes of bringing one or two Democrats over to caucus with the GOP. State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson County) is considered a potential convert given his close working relationship with Christie over the past two years.

By dominating the national stage over the past week, Christie has put both himself and the state party in a position to make the New Jersey GOP's newfound relevance a permanent reality.

"Anytime that Chris Christie gets any sort of attention is good for the party," said Essex County Republican Chairman Al Barlas. "For us in New Jersey it helps all of our candidates. He sets the tone of the party. The voters are accepting it. You see it every time the candidates are out knocking on doors."

Christie also set himself up to be a sought-after endorsement in the primary, saying he will get behind a candidate if he decides one in particular gives the GOP "the best chance" to beat President Obama.

Some national Republicans, however, were none too pleased with Christie's tease.

"He's turned into Palin. Getting sick of it," said a Republican operative in an early primary state on Monday, referring to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who in fact has yet to rule out a run.

The chairman of the New Jersey Democratic Party, John Wisniewski, also got in a good shot at Christie. "It's clear the governor enjoys the national spotlight and attention. No one has milked not running for president more than Christie has," Wisniewski said. "He is the Brett Favre of presidential politics. People will believe he really means it this time if he just stays home and does his job."

Christie said that the logistical hurdles of launching such a vast enterprise in such a compressed amount of time -- the Iowa caucuses now look set to begin in early January -- were not a deterrent to entering the race.

"I have a great political team and they were prepared to do what they needed to do," he said. "The deciding factor was it did not feel right in my gut to leave now."

With Christie out of the way, the Republican competition will return to a largely two-man race between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with others trying to break into that top tier. Former Godfathers Pizza CEO Herman Cain has shot up in polling after his surprising straw poll win in Florida, but it's too early to tell if he'll have staying power.

If Christie had entered the race, he would have posed different threats to Romney and Perry. He would have presented a new and more formidable challenger to Romney, who remains on track to win the nomination by default if Perry continues to stumble along. For Perry, he would have helped in one way by taking most of the heat and the harsh spotlight of the campaign, giving the Texan some time to catch his breath and regroup. But if he had launched successfully, Christie could have potentially relegated Perry to the second tier, much like Perry has done to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Now, however, Perry will continue to come under scrutiny as he tries to come back and challenge Romney, and the Romney team can continue on the path they've been taking, with another lucky break having gone their way.