Chris Christie is reconsidering his past assertions that he won’t run for president in 2012, according to sources familiar with his thinking, a change of heart that has effectively frozen the race until the New Jersey governor makes up his mind.

Gov. Chris Christie chats with former first lady Nancy Reagan.

The truncated timetable is one of a number of factors that Christie has to consider as he weighs whether or not a presidential bid is feasible.

Among the other challenges: 1) Can he raise the tens of millions necessary to compete with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in what could be a drawn-out GOP nomination fight? 2) How quickly could he build early-state organizations and would he pick and choose in which states to play — our guess would be Christie starts in New Hampshire if he runs — or try to run the table? 3) How would the governor’s relatively moderate positions play in a Republican field where voters seem to want down-the-line conservative candidates?

One way to think about what Christie is wrestling with is to examine the situation like a college recruitment process.

When you are the high school standout, everyone tells you what you want to hear. Coaches fall all over themselves to praise you and every door seems like it will be opened before you even have to knock.

Once you get onto a college team though, you are just another player and held to the same standards as everyone else on the squad. That can be a jarring transition.

Christie is, and has been for months, in the recruitment stage. He is the hot commodity; everyone wants him. When he gets into the race (if he gets into the race) that will change. But, how much does it change? Does Christie go from being the five-star recruit to the disappointing bench-sitter? Or is he still a star albeit one viewed through a slightly different lens?

Below you’ll find our rankings of the ten men and women most likely to be the Republican nominee in 2012. As always, your thoughts are welcome in the comment section.

Now, to our weekly Line!

Moving off the Line: Gary Johnson

Moving onto the Line: Chris Christie

10. Newt Gingrich: Yes, Gingrich is making a name for himself in debates as the truth-teller of the field. But going into this race, everyone in the Republican political world expected the former House speaker to be among the best debaters in the field. The question that Gingrich still hasn’t answered is what the buzz he has created in debates actually means for his chances in the contest. Without any state or national organization to speak of, it appears that his raised profile will benefit his massive book/music empire more than anything else. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. Michele Bachmann: The air has gone out of the balloon for the Minnesota congresswoman, who has fallen this fall as quickly as she rose this summer. Bachmann still retains some foothold in Iowa, which keeps her somewhat relevant, but she appears to be a fading figure at this point. Her attempts to cast herself as the real conservative in the field — in contrast to Perry — haven’t caught on. (Previous ranking: 3)

8. Sarah Palin: Palin continues to push back her deadline for deciding whether to join the race. Now she might not say anything until November. Whether or not she runs may not matter; new polling suggests she would be mired in the second-tier of candidates. Palin would be a media sensation if she ran. But media sensations without anything behind them (organization, for one) rarely wind up as presidential nominees. (Previous ranking: 4)

7. Ron Paul: The Texas congressman has a loyal and relatively large base of support. The problem? Lots of the Paul-ites aren’t Republicans. That makes it hard for Paul to be considered a top-tier (or close to it) contender for the Republican nomination. His support is rock solid and might even grow a bit if the likes of Bachmann and Perry continue to struggle. But Paul’s reach into the bulk of the Republican base is decidedly limited. (Previous ranking: 5)

6. Herman Cain: The Hermanator is the talk of the race at the moment, bolstered by his surprising victory at the P5 straw poll in Florida last weekend. And, with momentum comes money; Cain spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael told the Fix on Thursday that the campaign is bringing in “several hundred thousand” dollars every day. Cain’s problem, as explained by Fix Aaron earlier this week, is that if he does keep rising, he’s likely to face increased media scrutiny, as well as from his rivals. And, if past is prologue, Cain hasn’t held up all that well under past scrutiny. (Previous ranking: 8)

5. Rick Santorum: While Cain is getting much of the media buzz at the moment, many Republican strategists see the former Pennsylvania senator as the fastest mover in the race. Santorum’s debate performance — particularly his attacks on Perry on the HPV vaccine and immigration — have struck a chord. And, he has a solid Iowa team that makes him a real player in the state. The question for Santorum is whether he can emerge as the first choice of social conservatives fleeing Perry and Bachmann. (Previous ranking: 7)

4. Jon Huntsman: The former Utah governor is betting his entire campaign on New Hampshire — even going as far as to uproot his campaign headquarters from Florida and plop it down in the Granite State. The move makes sense given that the little bit of good news Huntsman has had of late has come from New Hampshire (an independent poll showed him climbing into third place). While it may seem strange to have Huntsman this high on the Line amid reports of staff layoffs and lower-than-expected fundraising, his personal wealth allows him to kep the campaign afloat for as long as he likes and his one-state strategy has paid dividends for past candidates (John McCain, for one.) (Previous ranking: 6)

3. Chris Christie: If the New Jersey governor runs, he immediately joins the top-tier alongside Romney and Perry. While the idea of a Christie bid is clearly more real than it was even a few weeks ago, it’s far from a certainty. And so, he enters the Line in the “show” spot. (Previous ranking: N/A)

2. Rick Perry: Most national polling still puts the Texas governor at the front of the field, but that belies the growing doubts about his abilities occasioned by his mediocre (at best) debate performances over the last month. A strong third fundraising quarter — north of $15 million — could re-establish Perry as the frontrunner but he will still have to do better in future debates in order to erase the questions about whether he is really up to prime time. (Previous ranking: 1)

1. Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor reclaims the top spot on the Line thanks to his “tortoise” approach to the campaign. Romney has watched as Bachmann and Perry have each risen to challenge his frontrunner status only to fall back amid the rigors of the campaign. Romney has stayed remarkably steady and proven himself to be the best debater in the GOP race. Romney is never going to be beloved by the GOP base. But he is now regarded as the guy with the best chance of beating President Obama. And that may be what matters most to Republican voters in this election. (Previous ranking: 2)


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