Romney Gains Formidable Backer in Christie

Romney Gains Formidable Backer in Christie

By Scott Conroy - October 11, 2011

HANOVER, N.H. -- It didn't take long for Chris Christie to demonstrate the potential power of his endorsement of Mitt Romney here on Tuesday.

In a room packed with over 20 cameras and dozens of reporters, the New Jersey governor gave a full-throated defense of Romney’s most vulnerable issue in the Republican presidential primary: the universal health care plan he enacted in Massachusetts.

"Any attempt to try to compare what happened in Massachusetts and what the president has done to the United States of America with his plan is completely intellectually dishonest," Christie said as Romney advisers around the room nodded their heads in approval. "Governor Romney did not raise one tax in doing what he did in trying to improve the health care system in Massachusetts, and I will tell you I’m proud of him for standing up and doing what he believed was right."

The endorsement will not be a one-off event, RCP has learned. Two senior Romney aides said that Christie will appear at campaign events on the Republican front-runner’s behalf, although they have not yet finalized a schedule.

“He’s all in,” one of the aides said of Christie’s involvement in the campaign.

Christie’s endorsement of Romney this early in the cycle came as a surprise, as the popular governor had recently indicated he was not close to getting behind a candidate.

The endorsement came together when Romney and his wife, Ann, traveled to New Jersey on Saturday to have dinner with Christie and his wife, at which point Romney asked for and received Christie’s backing, according to a senior Romney aide.

At the endorsement announcement just hours before the next candidates’ debate, Christie spoke in his characteristically blunt fashion and was particularly forceful in condemning a recent comment made by the Rev. Robert Jeffress, who characterized Romney’s Mormon faith as a cult. Jeffress, an evangelical pastor, recently endorsed Romney’s rival Rick Perry for president.

“These types of religious matters have nothing to do with the quality of somebody’s ability to lead,” Christie said. “You have to evaluate their record, evaluate their character and their integrity, not based upon their religious beliefs, but based on who they are. I think that any campaign that associates itself with that kind of conduct is beneath the office of the president of the United States.”

Though they were clearly elated by Christie’s endorsement and his forceful defense of their candidate, the Romney aides also sought to tamp down expectations about the impact it will have.

“He has a very powerful voice, and we’re looking forward to him lending it to the governor’s campaign,” said Romney’s senior New Hampshire adviser, Jim Merrill. “For us in New Hampshire, it’s a very important endorsement, but every endorsement is important. We’re out there working very hard every day to make it count at the grass-roots level. Endorsements don’t win elections alone -- you have to marry it with the grass-roots work.” 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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