Christie flirts with NJ gov bid

January 7, 2009 10:30:14 AM PST
Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie and his Republican friends are dropping hints that Christie ready to jump in the New Jersey governor's race. Though he's publicly flirted with the idea for months, Christie has been coy about making an announcement.

But Republicans close to Christie say the question of his candidacy is now a matter of "when" not "if."

In an e-mail message sent to supporters this week, Sen. Joe Kyrillos, a longtime Christie friend and former Republican Party chairman, hinted that an announcement could come any day.

"We need a leader like Chris Christie. Stay tuned! I have a feeling we will hear some good news real soon," wrote Kyrillos, R-Middletown.

Asked about the significance of the message, Kyrillos later said: "I've known Chris for a long time, and I obviously have discussed this subject with him and some others. I don't communicate my message frivolously."

Christie has said he would announce his decision about an '09 gubernatorial bid in January. However, no one, including Christie, will say when an announcement is planned.

The 46-year-old Christie, who built a reputation as a corruption-buster, has remained highly visible since stepping down as U.S. Attorney in December.

He's administered oaths of office to municipal and county officials in the New Year, and called a meeting with Republican state senators this week.

Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. is among those Christie has called in the New Year.

"He's been making calls throughout the state to elected officials at all levels to engage in broad discussions of the issues," said Kean, who is among those hoping Christie runs.

Last month, Christie appeared at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association's annual public policy forum, but ducked out before Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine - his potential rival - gave the keynote address.

At the time, he said he was there "just listening" to business leaders' concerns.

But Kyrillos said Christie has been talking politics recently - something he was barred from doing as U.S. Attorney.

Christie has also in recent weeks begun assembling a campaign team, including consultants and communications staff, according to Republicans. Longtime friend and former law partner Bill Palatucci said Christie has been scouting talent but no hirings had occurred.

"He's done a lot of communicating in the month of December with people he was unable to talk to while he was U.S. Attorney," said Kyrillos.

Christie, who lives in Mendham Township, has consistently declined to comment on his political aspirations. He did not return two messages seeking comment this week.

During a seven-year run as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Christie, built a reputation as a crime-busting federal prosecutor. By his own count, he successfully prosecuted more than 130 elected and appointed political officials, including former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, former Sen. Wayne Bryant, and former Senate President John A. Lynch Jr., without a single acquittal.

However, as a Republican appointed by President Bush, he stood virtually no chance of retaining the job in the Democratic administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

If he runs, Christie would face a primary challenge from state Assemblyman Rick Merkt and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan.

More of a hurdle may be Corzine's wallet.

Corzine, who has indicated he will seek re-election, is a multimillionaire from his days running investment firm Goldman Sachs and spent more than $40 million of his own money on his 2005 gubernatorial bid.

Should Christie accept public money, he could receive a maximum of $10.4 million - but only if he limits overall spending to $15.9 million.

Asked about a likely Christie candidacy, Democratic State Committee Chairman Joe Cryan said the eventual Republican nominee must first get through the party's primary.

"We'll see who wins their nomination before we care about who runs," said Cryan.

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