MANCHESTER, N.H. — Chris Christie did not go quietly.
After a disappointing sixth-place finish in New Hampshire’s primary, to which he had staked his presidential prospects, the New Jersey governor has decided to drop out of the race, according to reports.
As of last week, things did not look promising for Christie: His poll numbers were stagnating and two other moderate governors, Jeb Bush and John Kasich, were gathering steam in the Granite State.
But then Christie took the stage Saturday at the Republican debate in Manchester — where he tore Sen. Marco Rubio apart.
“There it is, the memorized 25-second speech,” Christie declared when Rubio repeated a talking point about President Obama’s intention to change the fabric of the country. That moment seriously wounded Rubio. Before the debate the Florida senator was widely expected to finish in second place, but instead placed fifth.
The debate could have marked a breakthrough for Christie. Instead, it was a monumental, fiery last stand.
After the polls closed Tuesday, the two-term governor announced he would return home to reassess his candidacy.
“We leave New Hampshire tonight without an ounce of regret,” he told supporters in Nashua.
However, he is expected to announce Wednesday afternoon that he is ending his campaign.
The announcement will mark the end of the road for a candidate whose political potential at one time seemed limitless. During the 2012 presidential election, some prominent Republican donors begged Christie to jump into the race as Mitt Romney slogged through the primary. Christie would later say, including on the campaign trail in this cycle, that he hadn’t been ready to run for president then.
But when he finally was ready, his moment had passed.
Christie announced his bid in New Jersey last summer, promising to be a candid problem-solver. “I am not going to be the most popular guy who looks into your eye every day and says what you want to hear,” he said.
That frank style was Christie’s calling card, having helped launch him as a national figure. But after Donald Trump jumped into the race, Christie was no longer the most brash or plain-spoken candidate among Republicans. Meanwhile, other moderate contenders, including a few governors, were winning more early support from donors and party bigwigs.
Complicating Christie’s bid was the shadow of the Bridgegate scandal, which broke in 2014 but continued to cloud his ambitions. Although Christie has not been directly implicated in the political payback scheme, a corruption trial stemming from that scandal is slated for April; it almost certainly would have distracted Christie’s campaign.
Still, he saw a potential launching pad in New Hampshire, a state that has historically rewarded candor and grit. His command of town-hall settings, which helped propel John McCain to victory in the state, was also encouraging. Christie decided to all but move here: Over the course of the campaign, he logged 72 town halls.
His campaign seemed to reach a turning point in November, when he won the endorsement of the influential Union-Leader newspaper. “Other candidates have gained public and media attention by speaking bluntly,” wrote the paper’s publisher, Joe McQuaid. “But it’s important when you are telling it like it is to actually know what you are talking about.”
But attacks on Christie began not long afterward. Pro-Bush groups spent $2 million hitting him; pro-Rubio groups spent another $1.1 million, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, Christie’s campaign lacked the resources to match those attacks.
And, even in New Hampshire, his infrastructure lagged behind his opponents’. Christie’s camp had only four paid staffers in the state; 200 volunteers were bused from New Jersey last weekend to pitch in, but by Sunday night many had returned to the Garden State.
At the eleventh hour, after months of relative restraint on the debate stage, Christie’s campaign unleashed its most powerful weapon on Rubio: the candidate himself. But if Rubio’s candidacy was wounded, so, too, was Christie’s.
“He blew the crowd away,” said Paul Clark, a Christie supporter who attended the debate. “Had Christie participated in the debates earlier in that way, it might have helped him.”
On Monday evening, Christie held his final town-hall gathering at a Greek Orthodox cathedral in Manchester. Even hours before polls opened, he was winning converts. “When I walked into this town hall tonight, I was an undecided voter,” one woman said as prelude to her question. “You’ve made a believer out of me.”
In his closing remarks, the governor struck a resilient tone. He said he intended to fly to South Carolina on Wednesday morning. “I’ll tell you one last thing,” he said. “I’m going to be president of the United States.”