But that space was fast being filled by Donald Trump, who was sucking up most of the oxygen in the race with his controversial comments and ego. Instead, Christie landed squarely in the middle or toward the back of the pack, where he's stayed this entire race. He has especially struggled to gain momentum in the moderate/establishment lane. According to a Real Clear Politics average of recent New Hampshire polls, Christie is currently in sixth in that state -- his best early-state opportunity -- behind the other three establishment candidates in the race. In seven out of the seven most recent New Hampshire polls, he hasn't cracked double digits in support.
In Iowa, Christie came in ninth place, just ahead of little-known Jim Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who dropped out of the race after Iowa.
How has he performed?
Christie entered the race with such low expectations that it was hard not to outperform them. "Chris Christie, a faded Republican star, launches presidential campaign," wrote The Washington Post's Robert Costa and Sean Sullivan as Christie announced his candidacy, mentioning the 2013 "Bridgegate" traffic scandal involving three of Christie's former top aides and appointees in the first paragraph.
Despite being seen by some as damaged goods, Christie has since managed to perform well enough in the polls to stay on the main stage in the GOP's debate all but once. Once on stage, Christie often manages to carve out a moment for himself or deliver a memorable line designed to set himself apart from the senators and former governors next to him. Beyond that, though, there hasn't been much to write home about.
What are his strengths?
Christie is a naturally gifted communicator. He's a guy who can talk about politics and policy in terms real people can understand and with a passion they can connect to.
Case in point: A New Hampshire town hall in November where he shared one of his law school buddies' tragic tale of prescription pill addiction as a way to advocate for more compassionate drug laws. A Huffington Post video of the speech went viral. Christie was having a Moment with a capital M, we wrote on The Fix.
What are his weaknesses?
But Christie's moments, big and small, are peppered throughout a lackluster campaign that's failed to capitalize on them, perhaps (at least initially) because Bridgegate continues to hang around the governor's neck.
An internal investigation he commissioned cleared the governor of wrongdoing, but two months before he launched his presidential campaign, one of his top aides pleaded guilty to felonies in connection to the traffic-jam-as-political-retribution scandal, while two other aides were indicted.
Meanwhile, his job approval ratings are skimming the bottom; just 31 percent of New Jersey voters approve of the job he's doing, according to a January Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll. Contrast that to Christie's once sky-high approval rating of 77 percent after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
What would it take for him to win the nomination?
The Iowa caucuses were a wash for moderate candidates like Christie. So he has got to bang out a very good performance -- we would say a top-three, at the least -- in New Hampshire, the early-voting state that arguably fits his East Coast personality and politics the best. From there, it's probably about becoming the GOP establishment candidate and hoping to knock off Trump and Ted Cruz.
Christie has managed to brush off the doubters and keep himself in the running long enough that as voting begins, we're writing about him as a possibility -- albeit a long-shot one -- to win the GOP nomination.