New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told California Republicans on Saturday that the party should not rush to choose a 2016 presidential nominee because of pressure from pollsters, pundits and GOP donors.

"I promise you that over the next few months, you will see article after article arguing that our party can't afford a long nomination battle, we need to pick a nominee as soon as possible, that we have to unite behind whatever candidate appears to have the most money, the most endorsements or the best press coverage," Christie told about 500 lunch guests Saturday at the California Republican Party's spring convention in Sacramento.

But he reminded the audience that former California Gov. Ronald Reagan didn't win the presidential nomination until May 1980, and President Barack Obama didn't win his first Democratic nomination until June 2008, "mere months before the general election."

Christie is in California raising money for his political action committee, but he has struggled in recent weeks amid a crowded field of potential candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

"Take a deep breath, everybody. We are 21 months away from electing our next president," he said to laughter.

Christie's speech at a hotel just a block from the state Capitol was peppered with references to Reagan, a former California governor who remains a GOP icon. Although just 28 percent of registered voters identify as Republican, Christie urged the audience not to give up on conservatism or the country's future.

Christie drew perhaps his largest applause for criticizing nearly a dozen Democrats who said they would not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress next week, calling it a "disgraceful moment" in history that leaves America's allies without any confidence.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Netanyahu without first consulting the White House and State Department.

Christie has had a busy schedule in California with closed-door events in Newport Beach, San Francisco and Sacramento. He was also attending a meet-and-greet with state legislators in Sacramento and a reception in Los Angeles later Saturday.