Washington (CNN)A key political ally for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has decided to back Jeb Bush in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination, delivering a loss for Christie as he works to gain traction ahead of his likely presidential bid.
Chris Christie ally backs Jeb Bush for 2016
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New Jersey State Sen. Joe Kyrillos is supporting the former Florida governor and gave a $10,000 donation to Bush's political action committee, Bush spokesman Tim Miller confirmed to CNN Tuesday. The news was first reported by the Washington Post.
Kyrillos and Christie have long run in the same circles, and Christie helped clear the way for Kyrillos to win the Senate Republican nomination in 2012 in his unsuccessful bid against incumbent Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez. The state senator chaired Christie's 2009 gubernatorial bid, and was present at Christie's swearing-in as U.S. attorney before that.
However, it had previously been reported that Kyrillos was considering throwing his support behind Bush. Kyrillos has sharply criticized the Port Authority this year — an entity co-run by New Jersey and New York that was heavily involved in the George Washington Bridge scandal — and called the agency an "embarrassment" to the governor, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark.
A spokesperson for Christie's political group, Leadership Matters for America, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Neither Bush nor Christie have officially declared their presidential bids, but both are expected to announce in the coming months. In the meantime, Christie has started outlining a contrast between himself and Bush, whom Christie has previously described as a "friend" and last year said it would be "stressful" to campaign against Bush if they both ran for president.
But now, as they both compete for business-minded Republicans and similar donor pools, Christie has started to paint Bush as a Washington insider.
"If the elites in Washington who make backroom deals decide who the president's going to be, then he's definitely the front-runner," Christie said in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
More recently, Christie argued that Bush's momentum appears to have stalled. Asked in an interview with NBC on Thursday if Christie considers Bush his biggest rival, Christie said it was a possibility at one point.
"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 said.
Later that night, Bush was asked at an event in New Hampshire to respond to Christie's remarks.
"I'm not into the process side of this," Bush said. "I'm excited about the possibility of running. I'm learning. Trying to garner the level of support I have. There will be a long time to talk about the differences should this become a campaign."
But Bush's behind-the-scenes courting of Kyrillos shows that the former governor is not shy about being aggressive and venturing into Christie's territory for support.
The news comes after Christie rolled out his entitlement reform plan in New Hampshire last week and held two town halls in the state that he's planning on making a big part of his campaign. The governor received strong marks for his performances before New Hampshire audiences.
And although a Quinnipiac University poll on Monday indicated that Christie's approval rating in his home state had dropped to its lowest rate, a CNN/ORC International Poll suggested that Christie was still a contender in the presidential game. He only garnered 4% support among Republicans, but he was the second choice among 11% of Republicans, meaning he still has a chance to come back.