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Chris Christie endorses Mitt Romney before the Republican debate

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LEBANON, N.H. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorsed frontrunner Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday, sending yet another signal that the former Massachusetts governor is solidifying his support across the GOP establishment.

Christie, left: "Mitt Romney is the man we need." (Getty Images)

With characteristic frankness, Christie stood alongside Romney in a hotel conference room here and said the governor is not only the most qualified Republican in the race but also the one best positioned to defeat President Obama next year.

“People run for president of the United States and say, ‘I think I can win, I hope I am ready – which is what the president did four years ago,’” Christie said. “Mitt Romney said, ‘I hope I can win, I know I am ready.’”

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Christie’s endorsement was well-timed, coming a few hours before a nationally-televised debate at Dartmouth College and likely to dominate news coverage for the remainder of the day. Christie’s language also made clear that, as a new campaign surrogate for Romney, he won’t be afraid to go after not only President Obama but also Romney’s Republican rivals with the tough-talking rhetoric that has made him a national hero for fiscal conservatives.

Christie’s insistence that Romney was the most qualified Republican running for president was a tacit dig at Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whom Christie was alluding to when he described the decision of other candidates to enter the race whether they’re ready to be president or not.

In addition, both Christie and Romney took direct shots at Perry when they criticized his choice of Pastor Robert Jeffress at the Values Voter conference in Washington a few days ago, when Jeffress criticized Mormonism, Romney’s religion, as a “cult.”

“Any campaign that associates itself with that type of conduct is beneath the office of the present of the United States,” Christie said.

Added Romney: “Gov Perry selected an individual to introduce him … and Perry then said that introduction just hit it out of the park,” Romney said. “I just don’t believe that kind of divisiveness has a place in this country.”

Romney and his wife, Ann, spent Saturday with Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, at their private home in Mendham, N.J.

They had what an adviser called a “good conversation,” and at the end of the meeting, Christie offered his endorsement. In addition, Romney had called Christie routinely since the latter launched his campaign in June, seeking his counsel. Christie called Romney last week after the former decided once-and-for-all not to run, which led to the meeting and endorsement decision over the weekend.

In addition, the pair had many mutual friends and political supporters, among them Romney’s media adviser, Russ Schriefer, who worked for Christie during his 2009 gubernatorial election, and Woody Johnson, a Romney donor and Christie friend who owns the New York Jets football team.

In recent days, many additional Republican donors who had been encouraging Christie to run, announced that they were supporting Romney, creating a bridge between the two governors.

“The fact that they came together was serendipity,” a Romney adviser said.

In addition to his penchant for feisty language, Christie will bring to the campaign a willingness to defend Romney in his areas of greatest weakness with the GOP conservative base.

On Tuesday, Christie did just that, offering an unqualified defense of Romney’s advocacy while Massachusetts governor for health-reform legislation that became a model for President Obama’s plan.

“Any attempt to try to compare what happened in Massachusetts and what the president has done with his plan is completely, intellectually dishonest,” Christie said.

The campaign plans to use Christie not only as a surrogate in early voting states and with donors but also as “an adviser and sounding board,” on both policy and politics, said Schriefer, who attended the press conference.

Later Tuesday, Christie and Romney were scheduled to host a national tele-town hall that Romneys campaign said would be open to 750,000 voters from across the country, including Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Florida Colorado, Maine, Arizona, Michigan, Washington, Alaska, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

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