Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chris Christie Announces He Is Not Running for President

In a long-awaited announcement of his intentions, Chris Christie held a press conference today and declared that he will not be a candidate for the presidency in 2012. Christie cited his commitment to the state of New Jersey as the sole reason for his deciding not to run. He said that he could never get past the idea of leaving the state early.

Christie's announcement finally places him in the "declined to run" category on the Campaign Status page. Only Sarah Palin remains as a candidate who has not officially declared her intentions.

Christie has long held that he would not run, and repeatedly--emphatically--denied that he would enter the race. But Elephant Watcher dismissed those denials because they were not made in a convincing manner. Today, Christie met the criteria for an actual denial. Until now, Christie only denied his intentions in response to questions. Today's press conference, like Mike Huckabee's prepared TV statement and the written statements by Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, and Donald Trump, was was initiated by the candidate himself.

If Christie's previous denials had meant anything, it would not have been necessary for Christie to hold a press conference today. Christie's actions, consistent with the criteria for a "convincing denial," have vindicated the criteria, which may be used as a guide in future election seasons. If a candidate makes a denial only in response to someone else's question (e.g. during a TV interview or public Q&A session), it is not on his own timetable, and therefore carries no weight.

Christie's departure changes the race dramatically. Elephant Watcher has recalculated the odds of each candidate winning the Republican primary, and a detailed analysis will be released in a future post.

Why didn't Christie run? Many political commentators will point to the difficulty of entering the race so late in the game. If Christie's decision was primarily governed by his wife's veto, and if his wife changed her mind too late in the game, then perhaps there is some merit to that argument. However, it is more likely that there were other factors. A late run would be more difficult, but not by much. Christie's odds of winning the nomination were still great, since most voters are influenced by the debates and the candidates' fundamental attributes. Most voters, even a large percentage of those in early primary states, have not even begun paying attention to the race. Thus, if Christie wanted to run and win, he could have done it.

It's more likely that Christie's decision was, as he said, influenced by his commitment to the state of New Jersey. Christie has only served a bit more than a year and a half out of his four-year term. Christie's concern and love for New Jersey is genuine. Running for president now would have essentially ended Christie's governorship, given the time commitment. Even if Christie lost the Republican presidential primary and dropped out a few months from now, New Jerseyans would never look at him the same way. Christie may have also been influenced by new polling that suggests he can win reelection in New Jersey.

Furthermore, Christie must have felt that the country does not need him to run. If the frontrunner or strongest candidates were unelectable and/or unacceptable to Christie, he would have felt a greater need to run. For now, Mitt Romney is the frontrunner, and Christie likely approves of Romney. Romney's strong showing in the debates not only would have made Romney look better in Christie's eyes, but would also have made Romney appear a more formidable primary opponent. Were Christie to run, he would have needed to defeat Romney in New Hampshire.

Ultimately, this was a case of poor timing. Christie has unusually powerful rhetorical gifts, and he is an effective politician. If he had become New Jersey's governor a few years earlier, it is likely that he would be the next president of the United States. Now it is questionable whether he will ever have the chance to run for the presidency. If Romney wins the presidency in 2012, Christie cannot run in 2016; if not, Marco Rubio may still pose an insurmountable obstacle in 2016 or 2020, having potentially served as Romney's vice president and/or running mate.

Only time will tell whether Christie will live to regret today's decision.