By KASIE HUNT and BETH DeFALCO, Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday announced he would not run for president, refusing to bow to pressure from GOP donors, fans and luminaries clamoring for another option in the search for a strong Republican to challenge President Barack Obama next fall.
"Now is not my time," Christie told reporters at the New Jersey Statehouse.
His decision means that three months before voting is set to begin, the Republican race remains focused on two men - former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The famously blunt, budget-cutting governor in office not even two years had spent the past few days reconsidering his long-time refusals to run for the GOP presidential nomination in light of encouragement from GOP leaders.
"I felt the obligation to earnestly consider their advice," Christie said. "Over the last few weeks, I've thought long and hard about this decision."
Ultimately, he decided against it.
"I believe in my heart this is where I belong," Christie said.
Close advisers to Christie told friends that they ultimately didn't think a run made sense in part because it would likely have been too late to set up the needed infrastructure in Iowa, according to a person who spoke directly to those advisers.
The governor's advisers said Christie was seriously looking at a run in 2016 and he refused to rule out the prospect of a future run. But as Obama's approval rating has fallen and Republicans have become increasingly convinced he is vulnerable in 2012, Christie became worried he would regret staying out if another Republican won the nomination and ultimately the presidency.
"This is an example of someone who has failed the leadership test," Christie said of Obama. "You can't be taught how to lead and make decisions."
Christie's announcement comes as a new national poll shows Perry's support dropping after weeks of defending his Texas record and businessman Herman Cain rising following a much-praised debate performance. The Washington Post-ABC survey shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney regaining the lead, though his support remains in the same place it's been for months - the mid-20s.
The push for new candidates like Christie and the quick rise and fall of others - like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and real estate mogul Donald Trump, who also flirted with a presidential bid - reflect continued discomfort in the GOP with Romney. He has been steadily campaigning since he lost in the 2008 primary but hasn't been able to sway skeptical conservatives who make up the party base.
Christie stoked the speculation with a high-profile speech last week at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., where he reiterated that he wasn't running for president, and a tour to help raising money for Republicans in Missouri, California and Louisiana.
Encouragement from Henry Kissinger, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush led him to reconsider a bid, and he spent the weekend thinking over his options.
But after months of waiting, Christie was far behind his rivals in fundraising and particularly in organizing on the ground in key early states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Florida's decision to move its primary to the end of January cut another month off of the time he would have to catch up. And Perry's experience offered a cautionary tale. He announced in August and immediately shot to the top of the polls, but has seen his support fade after a few shaky debate performances and repeated attacks from Romney's campaign.
But while Tuesday's announcement ended the will-he-or-won't-he drama for now, his endorsement this year will still hold sway; he declined to back any of the declared candidates on Tuesday.
If Obama wins re-election, he'll likely be at the top of the list of presidential hopefuls in 2016. And Christie's timing has been right in the past.
In 2005, many Republicans were begging him to run for governor. He didn't.
But in 2009, he was seen as probably the only Republican in the state capable of unseating Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine. He ran and won. He's since become a hero to fiscally conservative and tea party Republicans because of the policies he's fought for as governor.
He has imposed a 2 percent cap on annual growth of New Jersey's highest-in-the-nation property taxes and refused to give into Democrats' calls to restore a lapsed income tax surcharge on high-income residents. He's clashed with public workers' unions as he has reined in their pension and health insurance benefits and taken away collective bargaining rights on some issues. He also overhauled pensions and benefits for state workers - and convinced Democrats to go along with him.
He has also fought publicly with Washington: He canceled a plan to build a new rail tunnel to New York City and fought federal efforts to seek reimbursement for the work that was done. In September, he struck a deal for the state to pay state to pay $95 million of the $271 million the federal government said it was owed.
Still, he deviates from conservative orthodoxy.
He opposes abortion rights, but didn't always. He is against gay marriage and has said he would support an amendment to the state constitution to ban it, but favors civil unions. He says he supports medical marijuana for patients who need it, but he's delayed implementation of a New Jersey medical marijuana law.
Associated Press writers Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, Steve Peoples in Manchester, N.H., and Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)