New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has seen his presidential stock fall to the point where questions are being raised on whether he’ll really enter the race

“You see the polls, they don’t give him a lot of encouragement,” said one Republican donor said. “That’s discouraging as heck…

“If you asked me two weeks ago, I’d say, ‘No question — he’s running,’ ” said Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth’s Polling Institute. “Now I think there’s a bit of a question, and it’s mainly because of the potential for him to be totally embarrassed in those early contests.”…

“He’s got to stop the bloodletting in the polls,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “He’s not dead in the water, but he’s certainly on life support and his condition is getting worse by the day.”

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Even sympathetic Republicans are scratching their heads.

“Every other candidate is showing up here, and people are coming to me like, ‘What’s going on?'” said South Carolina State Rep. Phyllis Henderson, who just a few months ago was preparing to serve as a key Christie point person in the early primary state. “And I really don’t know what they are doing here. I haven’t had any indication that they are planning to visit or what the plan is. I haven’t really talked to them in a while.”…

“John McCain was left for dead in 2007 and 2008, and look what happened,” said Bill Greiner, a New Hampshire businessman and Christie supporter. “Gov. Christie is very similar to McCain. He has a willingness to tell you things whether you like it or not. He will do the things you need to do to win here, in small groups, in town halls, on the grass-roots level.”…

“How do you write someone off when he hasn’t even started campaigning?” he asked. “It’s laughable and it’s head-scratching and it doesn’t make any sense. You have to let him and everybody else campaign. Do I think the governor has a fork in him? Absolutely not.”

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Overshadowed and fading in a Republican presidential field he once dominated, Christie hopes that returning to the raucous town halls that first made him a national star will give him a jolt.

Christie has been presiding over town hall meetings statewide, including one here Tuesday, which he proudly noted was his 134th since taking office. Next week, he will take his road show to New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, where he will convene two town hall meetings on a “Tell It Like It Is” tour.

The format showcases Christie at what many Republican activists consider his best: direct and in charge, demonstrating command over disparate issues and exhibiting little patience for bunk. As he warns his attendees at the start of each event, “If you give it, you are going to get it back.”…

“I like Christie. He doesn’t take any guff from anybody,” said ­Brian Williams, 66, a retired New Jersey Turnpike maintenance worker.

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Christie, through a combination of personal charisma and appeal to Bush fatigue, will have a hard but not impossible task of pulling Bush down and filling the “mainstream governor” slot. Christie can be entertaining and impressive in town-hall settings but must make certain not to look angry.

A bigger problem may be Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has appeal with moderates and independents although he is to Christie’s right. In this regard Walker will need to continue his outspokenness on foreign policy and present a national-size agenda.

And last but not least there is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who wowed Republicans with his announcement speech and has a reform agenda more complete at this stage than any competitor. Christie will have to make his “you need a governor” argument, portraying Rubio as a nice kid but no chief executive. Here it gets tricky since one of the arguments for a chief executive is that you need a proven manager and an authority figure as commander in chief. On the prior point, Christie will need to defend his record in New Jersey (his popularity there is at a low point) and show he’s a better bet as commander in chief. The latter point, considering Rubio’s foreign policy prowess, is an uphill climb.

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Asked in an interview that aired Thursday on NBC’s “Today” whether Christie considers Bush his biggest rival, the New Jersey Republican said it was a possibility at one point but questioned Bush’s current standing.

“You would have thought when he announced in December that he would be, but it seems to me that that train has slowed down pretty significantly from what I’ve seen out and around the country,” Christie told Matt Lauer in the interview, which was taped during the governor’s trip to New Hampshire this week.

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Ingraham: How would you deal with the Bush machine in a presidential race? 

Christie: I think that you began to see what kind of candidate I would be if I ran by the speech I gave yesterday. You don’t hear anybody else, Laura, talking about entitlement reform despite the fact that it takes up 71% of the federal budget. I mean the fact is that we need to be talking about those things and so, you know, the way you win any race is to be the more credible, more appealing candidate that talks about the issues in a straight and direct way and connects emotionally with the concerns and the aspirations of the people whose vote you’re asking for. And so, regardless of who the main opponent is, whether it’s Jeb Bush or whether it’s Marco Rubio, or whether it’s Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, it’s going to be about our competing visions for the future and whether people believe that we actually have the leadership capability to get it done. And I think that I’ve proven that in a very, very difficult state.

Ingraham: Do you agree with the Bush record?  Do you think the Bush approach to foreign policy and domestic policy tracks with your own approach or is it markedly different?

Christie: Well, I’d like to see what Jeb Bush is going to have to say about these things, you know.  I mean, he’s certainly got a father and a brother who have a record, and I don’t know what Jeb Bush is going to say about foreign policy.  The one speech that he’s given so far I thought was rather general did really give a great insight into what he wanted to do.  Let’s see what he’s got to say for himself.  In the end, his record and more importantly his vision for what the future is going to determine how credible of a candidate he is.  If I decide to run for president, you can conclude that it’s because I believe that I’d be a better candidate for our party and a better president than Jeb Bush or anybody else who decided to run.

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Christie will never be president, though. If he decides to face up to that fact and switch races, he can promise New Jersey voters to bring his unique, lively voice to the discourse in Washington and vigorously represent them in a way few politicians ever have. And Republicans nationwide will be delighted…

If Christie were to announce his candidacy for Menendez’s Senate seat, which comes up in 2018 but would be open sooner if the senator resigns, he would be an immediate favorite. His in-your-face Joizy style, first made popular in YouTube videos showing him confronting teachers union lackeys, will start to play well again when New Jersey voters see he’s curtailed his national aspirations to focus on serving them.

Christie’s second term as governor ends in January 2018, which is perfect timing for a Senate race. It means he can continue demonstrating his passion for government service and his leadership skills for a few more years, while still having 10 months to campaign without the distractions of a “day job.”

Oh, and all the funds he raised as a presidential candidate will be available to him in a Senate race.

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And yet, there may be good reasons for Christie to seek the GOP nomination, even if he ultimately fails.

We got an example of such a reason on Tuesday, when the New Jersey governor proposed necessary, if perhaps unpopular, changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid…

In fact, every Democrat, starting with Hillary Clinton, ought to be asked a simple question: If you favor raising taxes on “the rich,” why not support lowering Social Security benefits for them?…

Whether or not he — as opposed to the rest of us — thinks he can win, the premise of his entire political career has been his penchant for straight shooting about tough problems and hard solutions. As long as it emboldens his GOP opponents rather than turning them into pander bears, that could be a very good thing for his party’s primary contest.

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Polling shows, however, that Christie’s making a bad political bet with this [Social Security] plan. (The plan has almost no chance of becoming law, so this is mostly about politics). According to a January 2013 Reason-Rupe survey, Republicans are more likely than Democrats, independents and the general public to say that income should not be a determining factor in receiving Social Security benefits. Only 26 percent of Republicans believe that Social Security should go to only those below a certain income level. Seventy percent of Republicans are opposed to such a proposal…

Among the general electorate, the plan to raise the retirement age is likely dead on arrival. The Fox News poll found that a majority (53 percent) are against it. Among those over the age of 50, 60 percent are against it, according to the Associated Press poll. For a party that is increasingly relying on older voters, this doesn’t seem like a smart strategy.

Now, I get that Christie is behind in the polls, and he may be making a play for “serious” Republicans. Indeed, Republican thinkers have been pushing for entitlement reform for years in order to cut the deficit. Former President George W. Bush tried it with his plan to partially privatize Social Security. More recently, Paul Ryan has called for reforms. Ryan, though, seemed to know that Social Security was a third rail. His most recent plan didn’t touch it.

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Of the immigrants—both legal and undocumented—that he’s met, Christie said, none have said they came to the U.S. so they could vote, and dismissed the “pathway to citizenship” debate as a narrative fueled by Democrats.

“Most of the folk I’ve met are much more concerned about work, so let’s not get dragged into that part of the conversation,” he said.

And stirring up memories of Mitt Romney circa 2012, Christie volunteered that he’s “not somebody who believes in the concept of self-deportation.”

“These folks are not going leave on their own,” he said, describing the idea as a “fantasy that’s just not gonna happen.” Christie also said deporting undocumented immigrants by force would not be a feasible option, but didn’t offer any specific policy solutions.

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Chris Christie took a centrist tone on guns Wednesday, calling for the “right balance” between gun control and the Second Amendment.

“We’ve got to make sure we have public safety, but on the other hand we have to protect people’s rights both as sportsmen and hunters and for self protection too, find the right balance,” Christie told a group of New Hampshire voters at Chez Vachon in Manchester, according to New Jersey newspaper The Record.

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To Christie’s credit, he’s keep up a brave face about his poll collapse. He and his team recognize that the recent history of Republican nomination fights suggest there will be fates rising and falling all the way up until people vote — and likely well beyond that. (Remember that McCain was out of money and dodging calls to drop out of the race in the summer of 2007.)

But, it’s hard for me to believe that Christie, in his privatest of private moments, doesn’t allow himself to wonder what things might be like if he had jumped into the 2012 presidential race. (Sidebar: I wonder sometimes whether Hillary Clinton doesn’t wonder whether she should have run for president in 2004.) If Christie is never able to re-vivify his 2016 hopes, I’d bet he’ll always look back ruefully on that decision not to run in 2012.

Good politicians take advantage of good timing. Great politicians find ways to make timing great for them. Given where he is right now, Christie will need to be a great politician to get himself back into the mix in 2016.

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I can’t totally dismiss him as a factor in the presidential race (assuming, of course, that he runs.) Natural ability and a talent for communicating matter more in a presidential race than in any other contest.  People are deciding, at some level, whether they trust and like you, whether they feel like you understand what their lives are like and will take that understanding to the highest office in the country.

Aside, maybe, from Marco Rubio, no one in the field has the pure talent that Christie does for communicating with voters. I’m not sure that ability can resurrect his chances given the problems his candidacy has endured even before he’s officially running. But it’s the reason I can’t — and I don’t think anyone should — write off Christie entirely just yet.

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“I don’t believe that we’ve done well with the experiment of a one-term U.S. senator being president of the United States.”