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Why Chris Christie won't run for president, despite some GOP pleas

Rick Perry's fumbles have created an opening for a strong candidate to jump in the GOP presidential race. But Chris Christie really, truly does not seem to want to run, at least this time.

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answers a question as he and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (not pictured) speak to a gathering at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., on Thursday. In a response to a student, Christie says that the choice to not run for president is a family decision.

Mel Evans/AP

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Chris Christie for president? The fumbles and foibles of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, no longer seen as the savior of the Republican presidential field, have opened up a big gaping hole for a strong candidate to jump in. And the blunt-spoken governor of New Jersey is just the guy, in the eyes of some GOP elites. It’s not too late, they say. Really.

The only problem is that Governor Christie really, truly does not seem to want to run, at least this time around. Yes, Republican donors and fundraisers have been telling reporters that Christie is reconsidering, even after he once insisted that “short of suicide,” he doesn’t know how to convince people that he’s not running. These unnamed donors are thinking wishfully, says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Certainly, though, Christie is guilty of leading us on. He takes donors’ phone calls. (Of course, maybe he just doesn’t want to be rude. After all, they could also donate to his reelection campaign for governor, if he runs again in 2013.) He speaks out on national issues, like the future of entitlements. On Tuesday, he’s speaking at the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Last week, a pro-Christie group launched a $1.5 million TV ad campaign in New York and Philadelphia, praising his leadership.

But listen to what Christie actually says about running for president, not what unnamed donors say he’s saying in private. In an appearance last Thursday at New Jersey’s Rider University, Christie spoke in less-than-glowing terms about the prospect of getting up at 5:30 in the morning, on a minus-15-degree day in Des Moines, to go shake hands at a meatpacking plant.

Running for president, Christie said, has got to be “something that you and your family really believes is not only the right thing to do, but I think what you must do at that time in your life, both for you and for your country.” He went on, “For me, the answer to that was, it isn’t.”

When Christie says that, he sounds like he means it. His heart isn’t in it. And it’s that honesty and authenticity that are his stock in trade. If he were to turn around now and decide to run, at this late moment, he would lose credibility.

It’s also possible that Christie has learned a lesson from watching Governor Perry belly-flop on the national stage. Perry is a seasoned politician, having served in various elected positions since 1985, the last 11 years as governor of Texas. Christie is, by comparison, not nearly as experienced. In 1994, he was elected to local office briefly, before running for state assembly and losing. Running for (and winning) the New Jersey governorship in 2009 was his first state-wide campaign.

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[Editor's note: The original version of this story reported that Christie is new to elective office.]

But yet ... One can’t completely rule out an extraordinary circumstance in which Republicans reach the point of desperation for someone like Christie to get in. After three weak debate performances by Perry, and a big loss Saturday in the Florida straw poll, Republican strategists are laying bets as to whether Perry can recover.

His poll numbers were already sinking before debate No. 3, though on paper he remains the GOP front-runner, ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Future fundraising is another big question mark.

Bottom line: On the chance Perry does implode, the GOP will want an insurance policy against the possibility that Mr. Romney’s candidacy collapses, too, for some reason. Or more likely, the low affection for Romney among many Republicans is such that party regulars demand an alternative. Romney’s Massachusetts health-care reform, a model for President Obama’s reform, and various policy flip-flops make him anathema to many Republicans, especially the energetic tea party wing of the party.

Christie, too, would not be a perfect candidate for some Republicans. As governor of a blue state, he comes across as a moderate on issues like global warming, civil unions, and guns. But those very positions – plus his proven ability to work across the aisle with Democrats – could make him more electable than, say, a Perry-type candidate in the general election.

So even if Christie really, truly, deeply has no intention of running, it’s impossible to rule him out with metaphysical certainty.

“If a delegation of passionate Republicans shows up at Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in New Jersey, and starts singing under Christie’s window at night, it’s going to be hard to resist,” says Mr. Baker.

Another caveat: Deadlines are fast approaching for getting on state primary ballots. In Florida, it’s Oct. 31. South Carolina is the next day. New Hampshire is Nov. 18. The clock is ticking.

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