Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, yesterday said he would not run for the Republican nomination, dashing the hopes of party activists unenthused by Mitt Romney, the most likely opponent of President Barack Obama next year.
"Now is not my time," the 49-year-old Mr Christie told a press conference. "Over the last week I've thought long and hard, but the deciding factor was that it didn't feel right to me in my gut. I made a commitment to the people of New Jersey, who elected me to get a job done, and I'm not prepared to walk away."
So, with the humour and bluntness that made him so appealing to many Republicans, he added : "Whether you like it or not, New Jersey, you're stuck with me."
Speculation about a Christie candidacy began months ago, but he insisted he would not run, declaring over and over again that he "wasn't ready". But in recent weeks, pleas from party strategists and fundraisers intensified, reaching fever pitch when he delivered a speech at the Ronald Reagan library in California. "We need you, your country needs you," one woman in the audience told him. Mr Christie then said he was reconsidering his refusal. But yesterday he made clear that the reasons that stopped him throwing his hat into the ring had not changed: "It was always a long shot I would change my mind."
In fact, the difficulties had if anything multiplied. The first primary votes, in Iowa and New Hampshire, are barely three months away, leaving little time to raise money, hire advisers and get a state-by-state campaign organisation in place.
Nor was there any guarantee of victory. A Washington Post poll gave the New Jersey governor only 10 per cent of potential votes, behind Mr Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, on 25 per cent. The Texas governor Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain tied for second with 16 per cent apiece.
Mr Christie did leave open the prospect of a White House run one day. But as far as 2012 is concerned, about the only potential contender who could have an impact now is Sarah Palin. But according to the poll, two thirds of Republicans want her to stay out of the race.
The main beneficiary of the New Jersey governor's decision is likely to be Mr Romney, with whom Mr Christie would have competed for the votes of more moderate Republicans.
Perry's Confederate spat
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry has faced criticism for defending controversial Confederate symbols.
The Texas governor – whose popularity as a runner in the Republican race has halved over the past month - opposed a campaign to prevent Southern state houses from flying the Confederate flag 11 years ago because Americans "should never forget our history".
He continues to defend the symbol. Confederate colours are widely seen as discriminatory, prompting critics to accuse Mr Perry of showing a lack of sensitivity towards race issues.