Simi Valley, California — When Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey took the lectern at the Reagan library here on Tuesday night, he initially stuck to his script, a mostly dry speech that took a few swipes at President Obama.
But when Mr. Christie moved to answer questions from the audience, he let loose, moving back to his signature boy-from-Jersey style. And he was delighted to accept the praise and the urges to run, doing nothing to discourage the speculation and sometimes eager hopefulness from his most passionate supporters.
When one audience member asked about his stand on illegal immigration, Mr. Christie let out with thinly veiled criticism of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, saying that while he thought all children should have a basic public education, illegal immigrants should not receive subsidies to attend public colleges and universities.
“That’s not a heartless position,” he said. “That’s a common sense position.”
But the second question seemed to really animate Mr. Christie, when an audience member called him a “straight shooter” and asked him directly whether he planned to run.
“I have to tell you the truth, you folks are an incredible disappointment as an audience, the fact that that took until the second question shows you people are off your game,” Mr. Christie said. He then referred audience members to a video on Politico.com that strung several of his answers together. “I’m not going to bore you with it now. Click on it, those are the answers.”
But that did little to quell the hopes of two women in the audience, who pleaded with him. The first woman said that she was from Middlesex, N.J., and that her Italian mother was eager for him to run for president.
“What the hell are you doing in California?,” Mr. Christie responded. “Let’s go, I’ve got a plane here, you can come right back now.”
The second woman took a far more earnest tack: “You know how to tell the American people what they need hear,” she said. “I really mean this with all my heart. We can’t wait another four years, I really implore you as a citizen of this country, to please, sir, reconsider. Don’t even say anything tonight, of course you wouldn’t, go home and really think about it. Please, sir, your country needs you.”
To that, the audience responded with a wild standing ovation. And Mr. Christie suddenly turned serious.
“I hear exactly what you are saying, and I feel the passion with which you say it and it touches me,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that anyone who has an ego large enough to say ‘Oh, please, please stop asking me to be the leader of the free world, it is such a burden, if you could please just stop’ – I mean what kind of crazy egomaniac would you have to be to say that? It’s incredibly flattering.”
“But at the same time, that heartfelt message that you gave me is not a reason to do it,” he said. “That reason has to reside inside me.”
“What I say is that I hear you” he continued. “Please don’t think ever for a second that I feel like I am so important in this world and I feel like what you are saying is a problem for me.”
And with that, the audience was dismissed for dinner.