Christie says Romney is man America needs

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Christie's financial supporters had been waiting for him to decide before backing a different candidate. The New Jersey governor's endorsement is a blow to Perry, as it's likely to send much of that cash to Romney. Several top Christie donors, including Home Depot financier Ken Langone, had already announced they would back Romney.

Romney already had an $18 million financial head start over Perry, who couldn't start raising money until August, when he announced his presidential bid. Perry raised more than $17 million in his first six weeks campaigning, showing he can keep pace with Romney's financial resources. Romney is expected to announce he raised more than $14 million between July and September.

Christie's backing could help solidify Romney's standing as the most logical candidate in a field that just became settled last week, after Christie and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin both decided not to run.

Romney also stands to benefit from the budget-cutting Christie's ties to the tea party, a group of voters that Romney has struggled to win over.

The endorsement comes as the race accelerates because of a compressed primary calendar. Because Florida moved its primary to the end of January, voting in Iowa and New Hampshire is likely to start just after the new year or even as early as December.

That's left Romney in a stronger position than the rivals who are still struggling to introduce themselves to voters. Romney has led most early national polls, and has a campaign structure that he's been building since he lost his 2008 bid for the nomination.

And so far, the GOP race has been a struggle to find an alternative to Romney. Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann have both tried to pitch themselves in that role, and now former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain has risen in national polls.

Perry and Bachmann have stumbled in their attempts to attack Romney: Perry flubbed a practiced criticism during his last debate; Bachmann struggled to hold onto her fast rise in popularity and has struggled to gain traction for her message that casts Romney as a moderate who can't be trusted. And Cain has yet to face the scrutiny that's focused on top-tier candidates.

Romney, meanwhile, has turned in one steady debate performance after another. He's making fewer mistakes on the campaign trail and he's been able to spend most of his time focused on attacking Obama.

He faced another test in Tuesday's debate. It's focused strictly on the economy, a subject that will give Romney, a former venture capitalist, the opportunity to focus on his campaign's core message.

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