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In Blow to Perry, Christie Endorses Romney

Just hours before a crucial debate for Gov. Rick Perry, his chief GOP rival picked up a key endorsement from popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Mitt Romney and Gov. Chris Christie shake hands after Romney introduces him at event in Lebanon, N.H.

LEBANON, N.H. —  Gov. Rick Perry's chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination has picked up a key endorsement from popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The announcement that Christie will support former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came just hours before a debate that will be crucial for Perry, who saw his poll numbers drop after poor showings in the previous rounds.

Christie, a darling of the Republican establishment who was a presidential prospect himself until a week ago, said the choice to support Romney was an "easy decision." He praised the former Massachusetts governor's experience in both the private and public sectors. At a press conference in a New Hampshire hotel, Christie described Romney as the "best person to articulate Republican values and defeat Barack Obama in 2012," and said Romney was the only candidate in the GOP field to offer detailed plans for the economy and health care.

"[He's] not someone who just wandered into the [presidential race] and said, 'Let's see how it goes,'" Christie said.

In an apparent response to recent attack ads put out by the Perry camp, Christie also called any comparison between Obama's healthcare plan and the one Romney instituted in Massachusetts "intellectually dishonest." Romney, standing by Christie's side, asked Perry to "repudiate" a recent remark Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress made while introducing him at a gathering on Friday calling Mormonism (Romney's religion) a "cult."

"Divisiveness based on religion has no place in this country," Romney said.

Christie said that any campaign associated with people who made attacks based on religion was "beneath the office of president."

In a press release, Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said that the Texas governor has the "utmost respect" for Christie and that he "looks forward to his help unseating President Obama next year." Earlier, Sullivan told Fox News that the endorsement was a case in which "Northeast Republicans are sticking together."

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