Saying that "now is not my time," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Tuesday that he will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.
Standing behind a lecturn in the Statehouse in Trenton, Christie said he believed he owed it to the people of New Jersey to continue as governor. "It's never felt right... to me in my gut to leave here when the job is not finished," he said. "New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me."
But Christie did not rule out a run for the presidency in the future, telling an NBC News reporter that "I'm not going to preclude any job whether president or working at NBC."
The governor had repeatedly said he would not join the GOP campaign, but reports continued to surface in recent weeks that he was re-considering, under pressure from numerous Republican leaders unhappy with the current list of candidates.
Christie said his wife and four children had been supportive in a possible campaign. "Mary Pat woke me up a few days ago at 6 o'clock in the morning and told me, 'If you want to go for it, go for it,'" he said.
He said other candidates did not make a presidential run sound appealing, saying that those who had lost described the experience as "a nightmare," while those who won agreed that it was "awful."
The governor didn't resist an opportunity to take a swipe at President Obama, saying the president had "failed the leadership test." But he said it was too early for him to make any endorsement of any of the current GOP contenders.
Christie said he had been amused by the attention he had received, including from comedians who made jokes about his weight. "It's fair game, they can make fun of it," Christie said, "provided it's funny." He said his son Andrew had even taken to showing him video clips of items he'd missed. "So he's been grounded," Christie quipped.
The governor indicated he would not be interested in the GOP nomination for vice president, saying he did not see himself as a "Number Two kind of guy."
The pressure has intensified in recent days for the governor to make a decision after both Florida and South Carolina moved up the dates for their party primary to January, leaving only three months of campaigning before the actual selection of delegates begins.
Christie's announcement comes the same day as a new poll shows him in fourth place nationally in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination, behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, business executive Herman Cain and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
New Jersey Demcrats were quick to respond to the governor's announcement. "The governor clearly understood that he cannot run for president when his own house isn't in order," Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) said. "Unemployment is at 9.4%—higher than the national average. Property taxes have increased since he took office. He has a budget deficit of almost $8 billion... Not the best record on which to base a presidential campaign."
Added New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), “Thankfully, we can now move ahead and focus on the real issues that are impacting the people of this state. Unemployment here is above the national average, while more people, particularly children, are living in poverty."
Local Republican leaders made it clear that they were hoping for a different decision. “I am disappointed but I respect Governor Christie’s decision to decline to seek the presidency at this time," U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (11th District-N.J.) said. "Anyone who has ever worked with the governor understands his strong leadership for New Jersey would have been good for America."
Christie’s decision to stay in New Jersey was good news to Middletown Mayor Tony Fiore, a Republican serving in a township that has been characteristically dominated by Republican governing body rule for decades.
“I am happy that the governor decided to stay in NJ to continue to tackle the problems that taxpayers need him to tackle,” Fiore said. “I believe Christie would make a great president. I know he makes a great governor."
When asked about whether his touting of the governor was a party line-based opinion, Fiore didn’t deny that bias, but said he based his backing on merit and record.
“The governor has tackled the issues that previous governors have refused to tackle and I applaud him for that, not because he is a Republican or a Democrat. It’s an issue of doing what’s right for the state.”
In Matawan, Councilwoman Linda Clifton, a Republican, and her husband, Bill, watched Christie's press conference while grabbing lunch at Maloney's Pub & Grill on Main Street. Fans of Christie, they thought he would avoid the temptation to run and were glad to hear that he would definitely be sticking around.
"He has become a very popular governor because he has the strength to say no when other people might not," Linda said.
Monique Vandeleuv, a bartender at Maloney's, wondered out loud if anyone would ever believe Christie that he was not going to run.
"Poor guy," she said. "How many times does he have to say [no]. If it's not in his heart he shouldn't run."