NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has taken his firmest step yet toward running for president, launching an organization that allows him to raise money for a potential 2016 campaign.
While not a formal entry into the race, opening the political action committee is the most definitive sign yet that Christie will seek the Republican presidential nomination.
The move comes not long after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced in December he was launching a similar organization, which kicked off an aggressive race to lock down donors and may have drawn 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney into the race.
“We believe there’s a void right now in leadership throughout the country,” Christie’s chief political adviser Mike DuHaime told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news early Monday. “We aim to support candidates who are willing to take on tough problems and make tough decisions.”
The creation of the political action committee 7/87/8 — called Leadership Matters for America — was widely expected. The former federal prosecutor has been in the GOP’s presidential discussion since 2012, when he passed on the race and was later considered by Romney as a potential running mate.
After overwhelmingly winning re-election in heavily Democratic New Jersey in 2013, Christie turned quickly toward laying the groundwork for a 2016 campaign. In the past several months, he has held meetings to court donors, convened late-night briefing sessions on foreign policy and made repeated visits to early-voting states, including Iowa over the weekend.
He takes his next step into the race with several advantages, among them having recently completed a banner year of fundraising as chair of the Republican Governors Association. The group raised more than $100 million on Christie’s watch and helped Republican candidates win a series of unexpected races, including the nominally Democratic states of Maryland and Illinois.
Serving as RGA chief also gave Christie the opportunity to travel across the country and build relationships with donors and activists. He is also one of his party’s most talented retail politicians, reveling in the kind of one-on-one interaction that voters in the crucial early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire demand.
But Christie also has challenges to overcome, including the still-pending federal investigation into accusations that former staff members and appointees created traffic jams as political payback against the Democratic mayor of a New York suburb by blocking access lanes to the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan.
He’s also dogged by questions about the economy of New Jersey, including several recent downgrades of the state’s credit rating and sluggish job growth. Christie is also viewed with distrust in certain conservative circles, while other question whether his brash persona and habit of confrontation will play well outside his home state.
While Christie has told supporters to “relax” about the timing of his entry into the race, he has faced mounting pressure to get started after Bush — whose support and donor base significantly overlaps with Christie’s — said he would “actively explore” a run.
Christie’s campaign is likely to focus on many of the themes he’s spent years developing in New Jersey, including a pitch that he can expand the Republican Party’s tent by appealing to independent, women and minority voters, who helped him win his commanding re-election victory as governor in the reliably blue state.
JILL COLVIN, Associated Press