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12 in 2012: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's GOP Fan Club Grows but No Bigger Plans Yet

Chris Christie is known for his "tell it like it is" attitude -- an attitude that helped him get elected New Jersey governor and makes him a popular pick among Republicans to run for president in 2012.

And when headlining an Indiana Republican Party dinner last month, Christie was hailed -- by his political best friend, Hoosier State Gov. Mitch Daniels -- as bigger than U2's Bono.

"I said, 'you're aiming too low," Daniels said. "If you want a real rock star, you gotta get Chris Christie from New Jersey."

Judging by the enthusiastic reaction of the crowd, Christie had added a few hundred staunch Republicans to his rapidly growing fan club.

Christie's tendency to stand up to the liberal establishment, most notably teachers' unions, has ignited a national grassroots following that is begging Christie to throw his hat in the presidential ring. But so far, he has beaten down any such speculation.

Christie came out of nowhere when he burst onto the scene last year. His fight to be New Jersey's governor was just that -- one that had national attention and, some would argue, national implications.

Christie beat incumbant Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine -- a close Obama ally. And with Bob McDonnell winning the governor's race in Virginia on the same day, the Republican victories in Democratic-held states were seen as the first indication Obama's support was starting to wane.

After declaring victory, Christie told supporters that Corzine had called him and "pledged a smooth transition."

But that smooth transition was short-lived. Christie found out that the $500 million surplus Corzine promised was actually a $2.2 billion deficit. Christie impounded the full amount in spending by executive order and told the Democratic legislature to clean up the mess without raising taxes.

"And they said -- started calling me names. Started calling me Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte," Christie joked at the time in a speech, "all those great leaders of the past, men I deeply admire."

Christie's seeming inability to mince words has also made enemies with the New Jersey teachers' union, stemming from proposed wage freezes and benefit concessions.

"So I said to them, if you make that deal, freeze your pay for one year and contribute one and a half percent to your health insurance, we will be able to balance off these cuts and have no teacher layoffs. The answer was no," Christie said in another speech. 

And one of the local union presidents even said he prayed for Christie's death.

"They said they didn't intend for it to be public," Christie responded. "So private prayer for my death would have been ok?"

While Christie rarely talks about foreign policy or national security threats, he dealt head-on with the threat from radical Islam as the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, investigating, arresting and prosecuting the group of men who were eventually found guilty of terrorism charges for trying to attack Fort Dix.

"The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world and against Americans came to live here in New Jersey and threatened the lives of our citizens through these defendants," he said at the time.

Christie's tendency to stand up to the liberal establishment has ignited a national grassroots following that is begging Christie to throw his hat in the presidential ring.

"I think Chris Christie is so popular with the Tea Party because they like both his style and his substance. He has a very forthright style, he doesn't hesitate to confront critics and tell him exactly what he thinks -- whether they're the press or citizens," University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato said.

In fact, Tea Party movement leaders privately say he's the politician they most want to draft in 2012.

"They would love to see him run," Sabato said. "Christie has appropriately concluded, at least for the time being that its not in his interest to do so. Its amazing how many public officials are perfectly happy to abandon the position they've got to run for the higher one."

In fact, Christie had agreed to an interview for Fox News' "12 in 2012" series but backed out, perhaps to make sure no one can accuse him of even looking like he's considering a run.

He already has firmly denied he plans to run for president.

"Listen, I've said I don't want to, I'm not going to, There's zero chance I will," he said shortly after the midterm elections earlier this month. "I don't feel like I'm ready to be president. I don't want to run for president. I don't have the fire in the belly to run for president. But yet, everybody still thinks, 'Well, he's left the door open.

"Short of suicide, I don't really know what I'd have to do to convince you people that I'm not running. I'm not running."

But try as he might -- Christie is still seen as a rising leader who could reshape the GOP.

"We need to start taking our country back, not in 2012, not by focusing on who our nominee for president is going to be," he said. "It is put up or shut up time for our party."

This is the final installment of Fox News' “12 in 2012,” profiles of potential GOP contenders for the White House.