Christie ends presidential campaign

Posted: February 12, 2016

Gov. Christie has come home.

After striking out on a months-long quest for the White House - and laying groundwork for years previously - the governor suspended his presidential campaign Wednesday after a disappointing finish in the New Hampshire primary.

Christie, who went back to New Jersey on Wednesday instead of going on to South Carolina, announced his decision at a staff meeting in Morristown, according to a campaign spokeswoman.

Despite devoting most of his resources to New Hampshire, Christie finished sixth in the Republican primary Tuesday, falling short of rival Govs. John Kasich and Jeb Bush, and failing to qualify for the next GOP debate, Saturday in South Carolina.

"I leave the race without an ounce of regret," Christie wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday that largely repeated the speech he gave after his poor showing Tuesday in New Hampshire. "I'm so proud of the campaign we ran, the people that ran it with me, and all those who gave us their support and confidence along the way."

While his rivals hit the trail in South Carolina, Christie returned to New Jersey in the thick of state budget season - he will give the annual budget address Tuesday - and amid continued challenges of an underfunded state pension system and a near-depleted fund for road and bridge projects.

But his impact may still be felt in the 2016 race. Political strategists said other candidates would court Christie's support - and donors.

"He has some very good supporters that I think any campaign would like to have," said Tom Rath, a veteran New Hampshire-based GOP strategist who is advising Kasich. "Those are folks we'd like to reach out to."

As for Christie making an endorsement, "it's hard to come off of these things and immediately shift," Rath said. "Nobody, rightfully, would press him at this point in time."

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said a Christie endorsement probably would not pack much of a punch in the race, but any significant migration of his big donors could have an impact. Kasich and Bush would be the logical beneficiaries.

"I'm not a big believer in the importance of endorsements in presidential races," said Rothenberg, publisher of an independent Washington newsletter on national politics. "It's one of the few campaigns where voters have lots of information; they're watching and listening and forming their own assessments."

In addition, New Jersey has a late primary, diminishing the value of a Christie nod, he said.

But Christie could gain value from an endorsement. He will be out of office after the 2017 election in New Jersey, "so what's left? A cabinet post," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"Christie needs to use his endorsement well," Sabato said. "The new president has to feel indebted to him."

Christie "may" endorse a candidate, said Jeb Bradley, the Republican New Hampshire Senate majority leader and former congressman, who backed Christie late last year, not long after the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed him.

"But I'd sit tight and let it play out," Bradley said. If Christie does endorse, it would probably be Bush or Kasich, Bradley said, adding that he was speculating and had not talked to Christie about the subject.

Bradley said he was pretty sure "it wouldn't be Rubio."

During last weekend's debate, Christie took on the Florida senator in a merciless exchange that resulted in Marco Rubio's repeating himself multiple times. After finishing third in Iowa, Rubio fell to fifth place in New Hampshire, but Christie did not appear to reap many benefits from the exchange.

"Chris Christie, suicide bomber," Rupert Murdoch tweeted Wednesday as reports swirled of Christie's departure from the race. "Damages victim while blowing himself up!"

Christie had confronted attacks from a Rubio super PAC, along with Bush's Right to Rise super PAC, which was "beating the living daylights out of him," Bradley said.

He said Right to Rise had outsmarted itself: "They didn't realize until way too late that the attacks enabled Kasich to break out into the top three."

Donald Trump, the winner of the New Hampshire primary, said Wednesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Christie had called Tuesday night to congratulate him.

"We had a long talk, and he's a little disappointed, because he really did do a great job; he did an amazing job during that debate," Trump said.

Christie projected optimism into the waning hours of his campaign Tuesday. Visiting his campaign headquarters in Bedford, N.H., he proclaimed the race was "far from over" as volunteers left cheerful phone messages with voters describing how Christie had spent "more time here than any other candidate in the race."

The night before, as he held his last town-hall meeting of the campaign in a gymnasium attached to a cathedral, Christie asked still-undecided voters to "keep your ears open and give me a shot."

If voters heard him, Christie said, "I've got a pretty good chance you won't be undecided when you leave."

mhanna@phillynews.com

856-779-3232 @maddiehanna

www.philly.com/christiechronicles

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