The Des Moines Register reports on the meeting between Republican activists from Iowa and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) :

Although Christie didn’t promise to enter the race during the dinner with the seven Iowa Republicans on Tuesday night, he never flatly declared he wouldn’t, said Gary Kirke, a business entrepreneur and an organizer of the recruitment trip.

Consider this: Christie had 13 of his people at the table, all trusted advisers, said Michael Richards, a West Des Moines Republican who also went on the 9½-hour trip.

The Iowa businessmen said Christie is savvy enough to understand the implications of scheduling a visit to Iowa in July, just three weeks before the crucial straw poll here.

The Christie fans, and the other nervous Republican activists and operatives, hang on the absence of “no” — the lack of yet another promise to, as the New Jersey governor put it, commit suicide to convince desperate conservatives that he really isn’t going to run.

Most interesting is the degree to which the Iowa money men (and presumably those from other states) are biding their time:

Richards said his interpretation of Christie’s comments is that the governor “hasn’t made a decision about what he wants to do” about the 2012 race.

Kirke said the team members agreed that they are hopeful and optimistic that Christie hasn’t shut the door on a presidential bid this cycle, but acknowledged he has been consistent both privately and publicly that his commitment is to New Jersey.

In the meantime, Kirke said, they’re not considering any other Republican contenders. . . . “I don’t know of anyone we would put the full court press on,” Kirke said.

In a sense, their refusal to climb onto someone else’s bandwagon makes a late Christie (or Rep. Paul Ryan or Texas Gov. Rick Perry) run possible.

On the other hand, were Christie to change his mind, would he really try, this late in the game, to win the Iowa caucuses? He’s not known as a social conservative and he’s not spent the time glad-handing and wooing caucus-goers. It would make much more sense for him to bypass Iowa and focus on knocking off Romney in New Hampshire, where Christie’s fiscal conservatism and no-nonsense approach on taxes and spending would play well. That said, a savvy Republican insider tells me that if he does get in late, he still would not “want to be seen as overtly ‘snubbing’ Iowa, so he can show them a little love now, let Iowans know they can still be friends. And then if he jumps in late, he can chalk up skipping Iowa to the fact that there just isn’t enough time to organize a ground game there (and NOT because he thinks he’d have a tough time with social conservatives or their screwy caucus system).”

Whether Christie is seriously entertaining a 2012 run or laying the groundwork for 2016 is anyone’s guess. But the non-candidates sitting on the sidelines should take heart: There are plenty of supporters and lots of cash for a late-starting contender.