NEW YORK -- You might say that if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wanted to discourage speculation that he'll make a surprise entry into the Republican presidential primary, he could try a little harder.
Christie once again denied Wednesday that he has any intention of joining the race, but admitted that he has been asked to get in by influential Republicans.
“What I say back to them is I’m supporting Mitt Romney and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he wins the nomination and is going to become president come January 2013,” Christie said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I don’t know how many times I have to say it. The answer is no."
Nonetheless, Christie has made a number of small moves lately that are curious enough to encourage, at the least, whispers about his intentions. Such speculation has reemerged in recent weeks at high levels inside the Republican party, as The Huffington Post first reported earlier this month.
Christie went on CNN Tuesday night to sit down with Piers Morgan, identifying himself as a "surrogate" for former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, whom he has endorsed.
"I'm a supporter, and I'll do everything I can to help him win the nomination and win the presidency," Christie said.
But he also shared a frank assessment of Romney's weaknesses as a candidate when answering questions about why Romney has failed to put away his Republican competitors.
"He's a very reserved guy. And so in the time that we're in right now, which is a very tumultuous, angry, emotional time, at the moment, reserved is not necessarily what the primary electorate seems to want," Christie said.
He went on to clarify that Republicans "want someone who they believe will ... fight the president" and that Romney "will do that on the issues."
It was a less than resounding endorsement.
Also intriguing: Christie has not appeared with Romney on the campaign trail for over a month. The last time Christie's voice or name was used in a Romney campaign press release was three weeks ago, when they sent out a radio ad in which he was quoted.
Christie is rumored to be hitting the campaign trail for Romney again soon, but neither the Romney campaign nor Christie's gubernatorial office would confirm.
Christie used the release of his third budget as governor, which he delivered to the state legislature on Tuesday, as a springboard to do national media interviews, though that is not without precedent.
A video produced by the governor's office and intended to promote Christie's budget was more about the charismatic governor himself.
"Sometimes you may look at me and think I'm spoiling for a fight. Not all the time," Christie says in a voiceover, as he is shown tossing an apple gently up and down in his right hand.
The video makes no attempt to hide Christie's considerable girth, which he has talked about openly, and it is often discussed privately by political observers as a top hurdle for Christie on the national stage.
"Ladies and gentleman, this is it. What you see is what you get," Christie says.
And Christie ends the video with a line that -- if he were to jump into the race -- could be the centerpiece of his contrast with Romney.
"My mother used to tell me all the time, 'Christopher be yourself, because if you are then you're not going to have to worry tomorrow about remembering who you pretended to be yesterday," Christie says.
Christie already dangled the prospect of a run once, in late September, before conducting a 50-minute press conference in early October to announce that he would not run, but had come close to jumping in. So there is a precedent for theatrics on the biggest of stages here.
There are other reasons besides a possible run to show some ankle. It helps Christie accrue more political capital when he is seen as a national figure, and his blunt talk about Romney also helps him build some distance between himself and the presidential candidate, in the event that Romney does in fact fall apart in Michigan and beyond. And though Christie has spoken convincingly of not wanting to be a vice presidential pick, staying in the spotlight guarantees that his name will stay on the short list in that discussion.
Christie's name reentered the public conversation about the primary earlier this month. On Feb. 9, two days after former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) swept three contests on Feb. 7, a former Republican governor who still plays a significant role in GOP party politics told HuffPost that Christie could perhaps get into the race and win just enough delegates to make the convention in August a contested convention.
On Feb. 18, Politico's Mike Allen reported that there was open discussion among Republicans about where someone like Christie, or Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), could still get on the primary ballot. The two biggest targets? California and New Jersey, which have 172 and 50 delegates to award, respectively. California's deadline is March 23 and New Jersey's is April 2. And Politico's Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin reported two days later that Christie had been asked by figures in the party to put his hat in the ring.
The other prominent Republicans to be mentioned as potential late entries are House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But Daniels and Ryan have both knocked down the idea of running in the last week, and Bush is said to be completely uninterested in running by those who know him. For now, a late entry is a "white unicorn," as one prominent Republican called it. At least until the party sees what happens in Michigan.
The earliest that Christie, or anyone else, would even think about making a move would have to be after next Tuesday's primaries in Arizona and Michigan. If Romney wins both of those contests, it will probably quiet down the chatter about a late entry into the race. This week Romney has begun to look more formidable again, and Santorum has hit road bumps. But if Romney loses either Michigan or Arizona, or both, then that will ratchet up the anxiety, and the talk of a new candidate.
And if that happens, Christie will be well positioned to be the beneficiary. In addition, he is unlikely to have as good an opportunity to run for president as he does now. In 2016, there are a number of Republican potential candidates who did not run this time who will be primed and in much better position to do so then, such as Ryan, Bush and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Morgan asked Christie Tuesday if he could see himself as president.
"Who knows? Life has brought me some amazing twists and turns," Christie said. "If life has some more twists and turns for me and opportunities for me to do good and feel fulfilled, do some good for my country that’s given me so much, then that would be a great opportunity. But I have no idea whether that’s going to happen or not, neither do you."
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