Politics

Christie ends White House bid, spokeswoman says

Chris Christie addressed the crowd at his primary election night party Nashua.

Gretchen Ertl/REUTERS

Chris Christie addressed the crowd at his primary election night party Nashua.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a once-commanding figure in the Republican Party who struggled to attract support for his presidential campaign but unsettled the race with his strident attacks on Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, ended his run for the White House on Wednesday.

The decision came a day after Christie came in sixth in the New Hampshire primary, an embarrassing result after he had focused the bulk of his campaign’s efforts on the state. He was also facing the prospect of being left out of the group that will take the stage at the Republican debate on Saturday because of his poor showings in the Iowa caucuses last week and in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

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“While running for president, I tried to reinforce what I have always believed: that speaking your mind matters, that experience matters, that competence matters and that it will always matter in leading our nation,” Christie wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday afternoon. “That message was heard by and stood for by a lot of people, but just not enough, and that’s OK.”

“And so today,” he wrote, “I leave the race without an ounce of regret.”

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Christie’s theatrical style and management of the recovery effort after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 had made him a national political celebrity, but when he began his campaign in June, he was unexpectedly an underdog. He was viewed with skepticism by conservative activists and beleaguered by the indictments of close associates in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.

His greatest effect on the presidential race may have come in the debate Saturday, three days before the New Hampshire primary, in which Christie savaged Rubio as a scripted and superficial politician who lacked the qualifications for the presidency.

Rubio appeared stunned by the onslaught, and played into Christie’s attacks by repeating the same retort four times.

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That takedown of Rubio, however, did not translate into votes for Christie, 53.

His weak sixth-place finish in New Hampshire, getting 7 percent of the vote and no delegates, represents a slouching and anticlimactic finale for a politician who once had looked like a powerful favorite for the Republican presidential nomination.

Republicans had begun urging Christie to seek the presidency soon after his first inauguration as governor in 2010.

An eager political showman, Christie theatrically dressed down critics in town-hall-style forums and then posted videos of the exchanges online that wowed a fast-growing national following. He seemed to best New Jersey Democrats and labor unions in one confrontation after another, muscling through a law to overhaul public pensions and wearing down teachers’ unions in a bid to overhaul the tenure system.

In 2011, a contingent of political donors from Iowa visited Christie in New Jersey and urged him to run for president the next year. He declined, instead delivering a keynote address at the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa, Florida.

After Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey that fall, Christie’s popularity soared and he won a landslide re-election in 2013. Christie seemed unstoppable.

His re-election propelled him into the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, where he wooed many of the country’s wealthiest conservative donors. In the winter of 2013, he stood atop polls of the national Republican primary race.

But Christie’s political strength splintered quickly at the start of his second term. The revelation that several of his close associates deliberately snarled traffic approaching the George Washington Bridge, as an act of political retribution, threw his administration into crisis.

Additional accusations of payback and vengeance emerged, and Christie’s approach to politics, which seemed in his first term like a stern but necessary corrective to dysfunction in Trenton, began to look increasingly like bullying.

Instead of entering the presidential race as an exemplar of Republican success in a Democratic state, Christie limped in as an embattled figure who had largely lost the confidence of the wealthiest donors bankrolling presidential campaigns.

Still, for a brief period in the fall, a path had seemed to open for Christie in the 2016 race. He climbed in the polls after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, delivering a forceful national security message anchored in his experience as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey.

Christie won endorsements from top New Hampshire Republicans, including the speaker of the state House of Representatives and the majority leader of the state Senate, and from The New Hampshire Union Leader, an influential conservative newspaper.

With his gift for banter, Christie seemed to revel in the give and take of the town-hall meetings that are a staple of New Hampshire politics.

But he never resolved the core vulnerabilities at the heart of his campaign: a record of cutting deals with New Jersey Democrats that conservatives found distasteful, and the perception that a legal cloud hung over his administration in Trenton.

When he appeared to be gaining ground, Christie’s opponents unleashed an avalanche of negative commercials against him, highlighting New Jersey’s poor credit rating and Christie’s decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and invoking the bridge scandal.

A “super PAC” backing Rubio spent millions of dollars to run an advertisement showing Christie warmly greeting President Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy. The image has long been an infuriating one for conservatives, who thought that Christie was too friendly with Obama in the closing days of his re-election campaign against Mitt Romney.

But Christie’s campaign also became a study in political determination, and in the effect a candidate can have by simply refusing to give up.

When Christie was excluded from the main stage at a debate in November, he turned a debate for lower-tier candidates into a kind of leadership seminar focused on himself.

Forced off the campaign trail in late January by a snowstorm in New Jersey, he quickly returned to New Hampshire to promote his handling of the blizzard as a study in crisis management.

And after the pro-Rubio super PAC helped sap his momentum, Christie seemed to embrace a distinctive purpose: stopping a candidate he deemed manifestly unprepared for the presidency.

Five days before his commanding debate appearance, Christie told New Hampshire voters that he had been tested in political combat in a way that Rubio, whom he derided as a first-term senator with no consequential achievements, had not.

“You cannot put someone in the Oval Office who doesn’t want the heat,” Christie said.

As for himself, he said: “I want the heat. I love the heat. I love it — look at me. You know I mean it.”

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