New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has taken a major step toward a run for president in 2016, forming a political action committee that will allow him to raise money for a possible White House bid.
The creation of the committee, called Leadership Matters for America, was confirmed to Fox News by a Christie adviser. The paperwork was filed Friday before his address over the weekend to the Iowa Freedom Summit, a conservative gathering in Des Moines.
The committee, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, also allows Christie to begin to hire staffers, build the foundations of a campaign operation and travel across the country as he weighs a final decision on a run. He plans to make such trips starting in February, Fox News has learned.
The move comes one month after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced that he was launching a similar organization, which kicked off an aggressive race to lock down donors and may have drawn 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney into the race.
The PAC's staffers will include Matt Mowers, a former Christie aide, who is stepping down from his job as executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party at the end of the month. Christie is named as its honorary chairman.
"We believe there's a void right now in leadership throughout the country," Christie's chief political adviser Mike DuHaime told The Journal. "We aim to support candidates who are willing to take on tough problems and make tough decisions."
A mission statement on the organization's website echoes themes that Christie has focused in recent speeches, including remarks on Saturday in Iowa in front of conservative activists.
"America has been a nation that has always controlled events and yet today events control us. Why? Because leadership matters," the mission statement reads. "It matters if we want to restore America's role in the world, find the political will to take on the entrenched special interests that continually stand in the way of fundamental change, reform entitlement spending at every level of government, and ensure that every child, no matter their zip code, has access to a quality education."
Christie, a former federal prosecutor who passed up the opportunity to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012, turned quickly toward laying the groundwork for a 2016 campaign after winning a second gubernatorial term in the heavily Democratic Garden State in 2013.
In the past several months, he has held meetings to court donors, convened late-night briefing sessions on foreign policy and made repeated visits to early-voting states, including in Iowa over the weekend, where he vaguely referred to himself as "a candidate."
He takes his next step into the race with several advantages, among them having recently completed a banner year of fundraising as chair of the Republican Governors Association. The group raised more than $100 million on Christie's watch and helped Republican candidates win a series of unexpected races, including the nominally Democratic states of Maryland and Illinois.
Serving as RGA chief also gave Christie the opportunity to travel across the country and build relationships with donors and activists. He is also one of his party's most talented retail politicians, reveling in the kind of one-on-one interaction that voters in the crucial early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire demand.
But Christie also has challenges to overcome, including the still-pending federal investigation into accusations that former staff members and appointees created traffic jams as political payback against the Democratic mayor of a New York suburb by blocking access lanes to the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan.
He's also dogged by questions about the economy of New Jersey, including several recent downgrades of the state's credit rating and sluggish job growth. Christie is also viewed with distrust in certain conservative circles, while other question whether his brash persona and habit of confrontation will play well outside his home state.
While Christie has told supporters to "relax" about the timing of his entry into the race, he has faced mounting pressure to get started after Bush -- whose support and donor base significantly overlaps with Christie's -- said he would "actively explore" a run.
Christie's campaign is likely to focus on many of the themes he's spent years developing in New Jersey, including a pitch that he can expand the Republican Party's tent by appealing to independent, women and minority voters.
Fox News' Serafin Gomez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.