Nightly News   |  October 11, 2011

Ahead of debate, Christie endorses Romney

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced his endorsement of Mitt Romney on Tuesday, calling it an "easy decision" to back the former Massachusetts governor's presidential campaign. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

WILLIAMS: Good evening.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: He remains one of the biggest names in Republican politics. We just watched New Jersey Governor Chris Christie carry out a personal yet public deliberation over running for president himself. He said no, but today he made a rare and early endorsement of Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. Some Republicans , as you know, have shown some buyer's remorse at the mere thought of a Romney nomination. There is still a big GOP market out there for a more conservative candidate. And the ranks are still shifting tonight, but as you're about to see in our exclusive interview with Christie and Romney together, today they were all about one Republican Party going forward. We begin our coverage tonight with our political director, chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd , in DC. Chuck , good evening.

CHUCK TODD reporting: Good evening, Brian . You know, we're at a strange moment in this Republican race. Just as polls are showing that the race is wide open, there's a growing movement among insiders to rally around the fragile front-runner, Mitt Romney , and that was on display today with Chris Christie trying to cement Romney's chances. A clearly ebullient Mitt Romney today.

Former Governor MITT ROMNEY: It's an honor to be joined today by Governor Chris Christie .

TODD: And Christie was quickly on Romney's message.

Governor CHRIS CHRISTIE: You look at Governor Romney 's experience, his experience in the private sector running businesses, turning them around, going in there, telling people the truth about what needed to be done.

TODD: It was a case of life imitating art. Here's " Saturday Night Live "'s Christie - Romney spoof endorsement four days ago.

TODD: Today the real Romney and Christie took questions. First up, Romney's religion and the weekend dustup where a supporter of Texas Governor Rick Perry called Mormonism a cult.

Gov. CHRISTIE: I think that any campaign that associates itself with that type of conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States in my view.

TODD: Romney directly implicated Perry himself.

Gov. ROMNEY: I just don't believe that that kind of divisiveness based upon religion has a place in this country, and I would call upon Governor Perry to repudiate the sentiment and the remarks made by that pastor.

TODD: Christie summed up his reasons for endorsing Romney with a jab at candidate Obama .

Gov. CHRISTIE: People run for president of the United States because they think in their minds, ' I think I can win. I hope I'm ready.' Mitt Romney says, 'I hope I can win. I know I'm ready.'

TODD: The endorsement comes at a time when Perry was hoping to regain traction against Romney , starting with tonight's debate in New Hampshire . But he's got a new hurdle, ex- Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain . New NBC News-Marist polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show Cain surging. In Iowa , Romney and Cain are neck and neck with Perry in fourth.

TODD: In New Hampshire , Romney's lead is bigger, but again it's Cain in second and Perry in fourth.

TODD: Don't forget, Iowa and New Hampshire are also swing states . President Obama does not fare well in either state, bad job approval numbers, loses to Romney by nine points in our NBC News-Marist poll in New Hampshire . Brian :

WILLIAMS: All right, Chuck Todd in our DC newsroom starting us off. Chuck , thanks.