New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie threw his support behind Donald Trump Friday, saying “there’s no better fighter” at a news conference in Fort Worth.
With the surprise endorsement and strong reviews of his performance in the Republican presidential debate the night before in Houston, Trump is declaring he’s got even more momentum going into Super Tuesday primaries in 11 states, including Texas.
He promised to pull a “surprise” on Super Tuesday, including a victory in Texas where home state Sen. Ted Cruz has enjoyed a double-digit lead in polls for weeks. A new WFAA Texas TEGNA Poll released on Wednesday showed them tied.
The candidate on a three-state winning streak promised more “winning all the time.”
Trump flatly dismissed Marco Rubio’s contention that the Florida senator is the one with the momentum coming out of the Houston debate, berating him as “a choke artist” who is “really, really weak” on immigration.
He also blasted Cruz, whom Trump has been deriding as a “liar” for days now. Today, Trump still is saying that Cruz is a liar, but said his lies aren’t as despicable as Rubio’s.
In another interesting twist, Trump offered a comparison of Cruz and Rubio, saying Cruz is the “smarter” of the two senators. He went on to mock Rubio’s infamous “water moment,” when the Florida politician stumbled in a State of the Union GOP response speech once by pausing to drink from a water bottle.
Trump also reached out to evangelical voters who have dominated North Texas elections in recent years, reminding them that he’s been endorsed by several religious leaders in the region. “Christianity is under siege,” he said at one point in his remarks after getting rousing on-stage words of support from the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas.
Christie pledged his support before Trump spoke before a huge crowd of several thousand supporters at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Trump himself estimated the crowd at 10,000.
“I’m happy to be on the Trump team and I look forward to working with him,” Christie said.
“Donald Trump is someone who when he makes a promise, he keeps it,” Christie said. "No one is going to get inside this guy's head.” He described his former rival as “a leader. He is a successful person that, like me, isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.”
Trump was kinder to Christie than most others on the campaign trail before the governor dropped out of the Republican presidential primary chase. And today, he was especially kind, saying, “We have had a wonderful relationship for many years. He is a solid person that I have tremendous respect for.”
Said Trump: “To me, it's a very big endorsement. Generally speaking I'm not big on endorsements. This was one endorsement that really meant a lot.”
Trump, a New York businessman and former reality TV star, has been drawing rock-star size crowds to nearly every event or rally he holds across the country.
In a year where voters appear to be seeking out non-establishment presidential candidates, Trump has claimed victory in three primary elections in a row — in the West, South and Northeast — most recently in Nevada’s primary Tuesday night.
Democrats say Trump, who is “well on his way to winning his party’s nomination,” isn’t right for the White House.
“After years of pandering to extremists, the Republican Party is now stuck with what it created: a field of extreme candidates with views far out of the mainstream and out of touch with the American people,” said Debbie Wasserman Schulz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
“At least with Trump, he’s not shy about exposing what the Republican brand has truly become,” she said. “Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are every bit as extreme as their party’s frontrunner, they just hide it better.”
Early voting ends today. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, March 1.
Fight for Texas
Texas has long been described as the jewel of Super Tuesday, since 155 GOP delegates and 252 Democratic delegates are up for grabs in the March 1 election.
The size of the delegate pool is so enticing that Republican presidential candidates started heading to North Texas shortly after wrapping up their most recent debate in Houston Thursday night.
Trump’s visit comes on the heels of a new WFAA Texas TEGNA poll that shows he’s tied with Cruz in the race for Texas voters, although more North Texans give him the edge.
The two candidates are knotted at 32 percent statewide, while Rubio lagged with 17 percent, according to the poll conducted for Star-Telegram media partner WFAA-TV. In North Texas, likely voters answering the survey favored Trump over Cruz by 34 percent to 28 percent.
Trump last campaigned at the American Airlines Center in Dallas in September, drawing an enthusiastic crowd of more than 15,000.
Earlier this week, Bill Clinton spoke in Dallas, on behalf of his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Rubio spoke this morning at a Dallas rally and John Kasich attended a private luncheon in Dallas.
Meanwhile, Ben Carson will attend a presidential town hall meeting in Irving on Saturday morning and Cruz is expected to hold an event in North Texas before the March 1 primary.
Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News.
To learn more about candidates on the March 1 ballot, check out the online Star-Telegram Voters Guide.