New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is reconsidering his decision to stay out of the race for the White House in 2012 and is expected to make a decision soon, according to several people close to the governor with knowledge of his thinking.
Christie has long said he won't run in 2012. But those close to the first-term governor, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, say he is rethinking his hard stance.
A decision will have to come fast. Filing deadlines in primary states are weeks away.
Calls have been intensifying from top GOP donors and party elders for Christie to jump into the race. President Barack Obama's weak approval ratings and a Republican field that has been struggling to put forward a clear front-runner are also creating an opening for Christie.
Christie may think twice about moving forward, however. GOP latecomers have jumped in to see a big initial splash, only to tread water.
Michele Bachmann leapfrogged ahead of Mitt Romney only to be pushed back when Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined the field in August after months of insisting he had no interest. But after two shaky performances at debates, Perry now, too, seems vulnerable to getting picked off.
Unlike Perry, Christie is most at home behind a podium and seems to relish debate _ most often with the press corps.
New Jersey's pugnacious governor has been asked about his presidential aspirations practically since taking the oath of office in January 2010. But until this week, he has swatted down the idea repeatedly, consistently and colorfully.
He said he wouldn't run because he wasn't ready, because his wife wouldn't let him and because "I'm not crazy, that's why." A more famous reply came about a year ago when he said that "short of suicide" he wasn't sure what he could say to convince people that he's not running.
But after a whirlwind week campaigning and fundraising in Missouri, Louisiana and California, which included a speech on Tuesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in which the characteristically blunt Christie repeatedly criticized Obama, he started to dial back his denials _ he stopped saying he wasn't ready to be president and started referring reporters to previous statements.
When asked about running, Christie urged a capacity audience gathered at the Reagan Library to look at the website Politico, which had pieced together a long string of video clips of him saying he's not a candidate for the White House.
"Those are the answers," he told the crowd.
Christie later said he was flattered by suggestions that he should run in 2012 but said the decision "has to reside inside me."
"And so, my answer to you is just this: I thank you for what you are saying, and I take it in and I'm listening to every word of it and feeling it to," he added.
Later in the week, he dialed up his criticism of the president.
"If you're looking for leadership in America, you're not going to find it in the Oval Office," Christie said at a rally in Louisiana before a fundraiser.
Before the speech at the Reagan library, Christie's brother, Todd, told The Star-Ledger of Newark that there was no change in Christie's decision to run.
"I'm sure that he's not going to run," Todd Christie said. "If he's lying to me, I'll be as stunned as I've ever been in my life."
But after the speech, Christie's inner circle clamped down and Christie didn't make any other public comments about it.
A short primary season could make it tough to organize a campaign in time, but Christie has been making inroads with big money donors and media moguls.
He was the keynote speaker this summer for a retreat held by the billionaire oil tycoon brothers David and Charles Koch. This week he held a fundraiser at the California home of Meg Whitman, the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., who lost last year to Democrat Jerry Brown in the governor's race. Last summer, Christie met with the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes at Ailes' home.
A large part of Christie's hesitation to run has been his family. He has four children, ages 18 to 8. At a Sept. 22 event with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who was also courted but said no to a 2012 bid, Christie said it just wasn't the right time for him.
"It got to be something that you and your family really believes is not only the right thing to do, but I think what you must do at that time in your life both for you and for your country," Christie, 49, said. "And for me, the answer to that is that it isn't."
But he and his wife have been reassured recently that White House life isn't that bad. Months ago, former first lady Barbara Bush made a call to Christie's wife, Mary Pat, to encourage her to think about a presidential campaign, and Nancy Reagan also encouraged Christie when they sat together at the library.
The weeklong trip was a clear success for him, advisers said. It was also long planned. Nancy Reagan sent out an invitation for him to speak at the library this winter, and Christie made a similar fundraising trip last year around election season.
Christie's longtime friend, former law partner and adviser Bill Palatucci traveled to California with the governor and said there was no doubt it was inspiring.
"Many, many well-wishers who know the governor's record and are congratulating him on his record in office," Palatucci said after their stops in St. Louis. "Everyone from hotel staff, airport workers and those who attend the events responding that they know him and like his message."
Associated Press writer Michael Blood in Los Angeles contributed to this report.