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With Christie Out, His Moneymen Go Shopping For A New Candidate

<p>New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie turns to leave a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton on Tuesday after he announced that he will not run for president in 2012. </p>
Mel Evans

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie turns to leave a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton on Tuesday after he announced that he will not run for president in 2012.

With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (once again) declining to enter the Republican presidential primary race, his core group of financial industry fundraisers – a group that had been urging him to run – went looking for new candidates to endorse.

Christie himself said he wasn't choosing sides. "If I feel like there's someone in the field who gives us the best chance to defeat t he president, I'll endorse that person and I'll work hard for that person," he said at his still-not-running press conferenceTuesday. "But I'm not in a position today to make that judgment."

For many of Christie's financial backers, the shopping trip for a new candidate stopped with Mitt Romney. New York billionaire John Catsimatidis described the former governor of Massachusetts as "a middle-of-the-road, common-sense person, he's a businessman. He can handle international as well as national finances, which is very important right now."

Catsimatidis scoffed at the rest of the field: "I mean the other Republican candidates are all politicians. They don't know enough — right now, how does the expression go? It's the economy, stupid."

In past campaigns, Catsimatidis bundled contributions for the presidential campaigns of top-tier Democrats: incumbent Bill Clinton, nominee John Kerry and primary candidate Hillary Clinton. But after 2008 he moved right, even positioning himself to run a self-financed campaign, as a Republican, for New York City mayor. He ultimately didn't enter the race. But his political giving tilted heavily toward the GOP.

Catsimatidis said Wednesday that he's been talking with the Romney campaign since last year. And with Christie taking himself out of the lineup, Catsimatidis said he likes the idea of New Jersey's governor in the G-O-P bullpen, warming up for 2016.

Another convert to Romney – long-time Republican fundraiser Georgette Mosbacher – told the website Capital New York that she was ready to join the Romney campaign.

Ditto for billionaire investor Ken Langone, a co-founder of The Home Depot. He went on PBS Tuesday night and told interviewer Charlie Rose, "First of all, I want you to know that Governor Romney just called me a little while ago, and I've sworn my allegiance to him."

Langone is more partisan than Catsimatidis. Since the 1990s, the vast majority of his money has gone to Republicans. Four years ago, he was a presidential campaign bundler for former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

But he told Rose that he not only misses Bill Clinton, "I'd vote for Hillary too. Look, it's not about partisan politics. It's — please, I hope everybody here tonight hears — maybe you won't agree with me, but I want you to know, in my heart of hearts, never has America been confronted with greater challenges than it is right this minute.

Romney also won an enthusiastic endorsement from Paul Singer, one of the most influential conservative activists in the hedge fund sector and board chairman of the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank. Some other hedge fund billionaires in Christie's camp didn't respond to NPR's queries.

For Romney, the prospect of more Wall Street money is good news at a good time. His chief rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, announced Wednesday that he had raised more than $17 million in the third quarter. That seems to be better than Romney did – his campaign hasn't released its totals yet.

And all that cash gives Perry new energy just as Romney had seemed to be gaining momentum.

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Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.