Chris Christie's moment: too little, too late?

Story highlights

  • Chris Christie picked up endorsement from New Hampshire Union Leader and two key GOP activists
  • The next two weeks are critical if Christie is going to break out of the bottom tier of candidates

(CNN)After months of languishing in Donald Trump's shadow, Chris Christie is finally having his moment.

The New Jersey governor won a coveted endorsement from the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper this weekend. He followed that by picking up the support of two key New Hampshire Republican activists and winning what has become the de facto validation of the 2016 presidential cycle: a Trump attack.
But is his good fortune too little, too late?
    The New Hampshire primary, which is crucial to Christie's presidential prospects, is just over two months away and the New Jersey governor is in seventh place in the state. Nationally, his low single-digit support places him just slightly ahead of candidates like former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore -- the Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday put Christie at 2% support in the field.
    And he still faces some familiar drawbacks that include a warm embrace of President Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy and the Bridgegate scandal, which dampened much of the Christie enthusiasm before he even entered the race.
    "I had a lot to come back from. I mean, you know, the fact is that I didn't have the greatest year in the year before," Christie told CNN's Jamie Gangel Monday. "And so you, so you needed to reintroduce yourself to people. And that's a process. But I always had confidence that if I spent the time up here and more people got to see me, the more they got to know me, they'd remember why they liked me. And I think that's what we see happening."
    This is a critical stretch for Christie to break out of the bottom tier of candidates. If he can't capitalize on the endorsements from the paper and GOP activists Dan and Renee Plummer, as well as increased media attention between now and the final Republican debate of 2015, on December 15, the question becomes whether he will ever be able to move up in the polls.
    Katie Packer, a former deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney, said Christie is doing what he can with the newspaper endorsement.
    "I think they've used it about as effectively as they can use it," Packer said, with a nod to the new-found media attention he was getting after the endorsement.
    Packer, now a partner at the Republican consulting firm Burning Glass Strategies, said Christie is benefiting more from the work the campaign has been putting in on the ground.
    The Union Leader helped give him some attention now, but the field had already turned to one of his key strengths in the wake of the Paris attacks: national security.
    And he's been playing that issue to the hilt since then, scrapping with Trump on his 9/11 claims. Christie initially hedged on Trump's claims that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey had cheered the 9/11 attacks, but flatly said that the cheering "didn't happen" in subsequent comments last week and again Monday.
    He also thanked Trump for his tweet Monday on his New Jersey record.
    Trump tweeted: "How is Chris Christie running the state of NJ, which is deeply troubled, when he is spending all of his time in NH? New Jerseyans not happy!"
    "I'm happy to be noticed and happy to be noticed by Donald, it's a good day for me so I'm not worried about that at all," Christie said at an event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
    Patrick Murray, a pollster at Monmouth University in New Jersey, who has occasionally drawn Christie's ire, said that Trump's attention could easily presage attacks from others opponents and scrutiny from the media he has largely avoided so far.
    "Now that's he's on Donald Trump's radar, that's kind of the credibility stamp for the Christie campaign," Murray said.
    The possible hang-ups for Christie are both ample and well-documented.
    Not long before he launched his campaign, two former aides with close ties to him were indicted after investigators determined they retaliated against a Democratic mayor who declined to support Christie's re-election bid by shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge.
    The silver lining came when federal investigators said they found no evidence that Christie knew of the actions.
    Perhaps more devastating with the Republican primary electorate will be Christie's warm welcoming of Obama in October 2012, after Hurricane Sandy walloped his state, but just weeks before the election.
    When pollster Frank Luntz replayed clips of the meeting for a focus group in New Hampshire, after the first Republican debate, Republicans in the room said they were still ticked off at Christie, three years later.
    Christie has yet to even come close to Trump or even Ben Carson in New Hampshire. The latest Boston Herald/Suffolk University poll, taken a week before Thanksgiving, had Christie tied for 7th place in the state with Carly Fiorina, both at 4%.
    But Murray stressed the upside: Christie has room to grow where other candidates, like Trump, do not.
    "He's turned around negative favorability numbers in New Hampshire and that's part and parcel of the time he's spent there," Murray said. "This is a big boost for him in that it solidifies the idea that he's on the rise, even though his support numbers are still 5%-6%."