- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision — apparently definitive — Tuesday to pass on a 2012 presidential bid has brought a little more clarity to the fluid GOP primary race and potentially boosted the fortunes of front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, both of whom stood to suffer if Mr. Christie had jumped in.

Squelching a mini-boom that had been building in recent days, the first-term New Jersey governor acknowledged to a crowded room of reporters during an hourlong press conference at the Statehouse in Trenton that he had wavered on his earlier-stated decision not to run, but said that in the end it simply didn’t feel right in “his gut.”

“Now is not my time,” Mr. Christie said. “I have a commitment to New Jersey that I simply will not abandon. That’s the promise I made to the people of this state when I took office 20 months ago, to fix a broken New Jersey.”

His announcement solidifies the field, with the exception of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party’s 2008 vice-presidential nominee. She has the sort of political muscle necessary to shake up the Republican race, which up until now has largely been viewed as a battle between Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney, but she has not said whether she will run.

And with national polls consistently casting Mrs. Palin as one of the nation’s most divisive political figures and just three months left before the Republican nomination contest kicks off in Iowa, the window is closing on her taking a presidential plunge. To top it off, candidates wishing to fight it out in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary must file their intent to compete before Oct. 28.

“Unless Sarah Palin gets into the race, the Republican primary field is likely set,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist. “The front-runner will be determined by the debate next week. If Perry can get back on offense against Romney and stop playing defense on Texas issues, he will remain in the lead.”

Whatever the case, the Christie announcement returns the focus to the nine other major candidates battling it out for the party’s nomination: In addition to Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney, they include former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and former New Mexico Gov. Gary E. Johnson.

Mr. Romney had been leading in national polls, with Mrs. Bachmann second, until Mr. Perry entered, shot to the top, and then slid. The latest polling puts Mr. Romney back on top, with Mr. Perry and Mr. Cain, who won the recent Florida straw poll, battling for second.

The ups and downs suggest a field in flux, with nobody claiming a solid grasp on key voting blocs.

“Christie’s decision solidifies the presidential field and means there will be no candidate who is acceptable across the board for Republicans,” said Darrell M. West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

“Voters will have to choose between candidates favored by the tea party who may have trouble winning in November and those who are not as conservative but who may have a better shot of winning the general election. Republicans face the classic trade-off between issue agreement and electability.”

For months, Mr. Christie has insisted that he wouldn’t seek the presidency — at one point suggesting that “short of suicide, I don’t really know what I’d have to do to convince you people that I’m not running.”

But on Tuesday, he acknowledged that he did reconsider a bid after top GOP fundraisers and everyday voters pleaded with him to do so, after Mr. Perry turned in what were generally viewed as shaky debate performances.

Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University, said that Mr. Perry likely dodged a bullet.

“Given poor debate performances, unease over his positions on Social Security and immigration, and a controversy he is trying to overcome, Perry stood to be easily knocked out of the upper tier very quickly by a new entrant of Christie’s stature,” Mr. Rozell said.

At the same time, Mr. Romney also stood to lose, he said, “as his support lacks depth and he seemed easily replaceable by a stronger, new candidate.”

Speculation surrounding the Christie candidacy peaked again last week after he delivered a speech at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., where he sounded a lot like a candidate, hammering the Obama administration, criticizing the partisan divide in Washington and taking a shot at Mr. Perry’s support of in-state tuition for some children of illegal immigrants.

Some GOP officials and other top Republicans warned that it would have been an uphill battle for Mr. Christie to put together the kind of financial network and ground operation needed for a national campaign, only months from the first caucuses and primaries.

On Tuesday, The Times reported that some GOP officials and other top Republicans said it would have had an uphill battle for Mr. Christie to put quickly together the kind of financial network and ground operation needed for a national campaign, months out from the first caucuses and primaries.

They also noted that while a candidates such as Mr. Perry can rely on some Tea Party support to help them get through the long campaign slog, it was unclear whether a Christie candidacy would excite the grassroots movement.

“Perry had a base within the tea party, but Christie does not. His positions on some issues fly in the face of the tea party’s, and no one has gone through his closet to see what is hanging inside,” said Michael Karem, who has worked in the presidential campaign of every Republican nominee since Richard M. Nixon.

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