Trenton, N.J. — For a week, I’ve been in this small capital on the banks of the Delaware, waiting to see if Gov. Chris Christie will announce his final thoughts on 2012. Since he returned Thursday from his Reagan library speech, he’s been mum, avoiding the press. His public appearances, such as his Sunday stop in Sea Girt, have offered few clues.
But at dusk Monday, in a low-key swearing-in ceremony, Christie hinted at his thinking. At least that’s the takeaway, according to state politicos I spoke with this morning.
In brief remarks, reported by the Newark Star-Ledger, Christie noted — speaking to state employees but before a crowd of national and local reporters — that politicians often are celebrated, praised, and cajoled, that people “blow smoke” toward power. He then told listeners, without context, that he tries to avoid getting trapped in such plumes.
“You can become intoxicated by that smoke,” Christie said “And you can wind up, as the smoke gets thicker and thicker, losing your way. Losing that inner compass that we all hope remains true to who we are and what our role is in whatever position or authority we hold.”
“He wouldn’t say that, at that event, if he was running,” a high-ranking state Republican tells me. “He knew exactly what he was doing. An announcement, to end all this, is going to come soon,” he predicts. “From what I can tell, his team is enjoying the attention, and he is too, but he’s telling us, without making a big to-do, about what’s he’s going to do — not run.”
Other Christie confidants, who have been 50–50 for days about a late-entry candidacy, now suspect the same. Indeed, sources close to Christie confirm that “the decision has been made,” but have been tight-lipped about revealing it. That said, they are not, with a wink, telling me to call up New Hampshire GOP leaders to prep for campaign coverage. If anything, even on background, they try to play down the story, to mute the chatter.
When I mention that it sounds like he’s not running, and that they’re not working, at all, to build a campaign, most sources don’t quibble with that point. In fact, with a hint of regret, one all but tells me that he has decided against it: “He is definitely leaning in a certain direction. It’s all about when he makes public what I know — and we have to respect his timeline,” he says.
My reporting suggests that he will not run. Whether in Westfield, or under the capitol’s gold dome, I’ve met and spoke with countless Jersey operatives, donors, and influential Republicans. Not one of them has ever revealed anything about a fledging Christie ’12 effort, even in private conversations. Think about that: For a week, nothing has leaked out about Christie doing anything but thinking about it. Sure, they all confirm, calls from top Republicans, such as Gov. John Kasich, are coming in. But beyond that, nada.
Here’s what I’ve heard: Christie’s team hasn’t reached out to more than a handful of top donors and contributors. Christie himself, many say, has done little to no outreach to the donor community. There is still interest in setting up a powerful political-action committee for a bid, but no green-light, and no official behind-the-scenes machinations from the governor’s circle. Everyone remains in a holding pattern.
Media reports are slowly beginning to confirm the emerging Trenton consensus. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Christie told Republican donors in California last week that he will not run. “[He] told prominent California fund-raisers and donors as recently as last Wednesday he had no plans to seek the White House,” the Journal writes. “One assurance took the form of a pledge Mr. Christie made to Meg Whitman, the newly appointed Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive, said two people familiar with the matter.”
Christie’s team has also not reached out, in any serious way, to early-state operatives. Phones in New Hampshire and Iowa are cold. The buzz in Jersey and inside the Beltway may be hot, but elsewhere, it seems that no one is working on jump-starting a Christie campaign on the ground. Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Iowa governor Terry Branstad, tells the Star Ledger that “it’s been radio silent.” South Carolina consultants tell me the same.
As the clock ticks, and with all signs pointing toward “no,” Christie sources point me to 2004, when Christie, then United States attorney, mulled a gubernatorial run. With Democrats reeling following the resignation of Gov. Jim McGreevey, Christie was seriously courted. But around Thanksgiving 2004, months before the 2005 primary, he decided against it. He weighed his options, didn’t see a clear path, and didn’t feel ready. In many ways, his friends say, 2011 feels a lot like 2004: There’s an appetite for a Christie candidacy, but Christie, it seems, is simply not ready to pull the trigger, and will keep his eye on the future.