DAVID GREENE, Host:

The rumors have been swirling more intensely than ever around New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The big question: Will he or won't he jump into the Republican presidential field? Well, Christie spoke last night at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, and nothing he said seemed to dampen the hopes of his fans. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE: Chris Christie has said he's not running for president before. He's been governor only since 2010. He says that he doesn't feel ready, that it's not in his heart. Then came the reports in the last couple of days that he'd been meeting again with major GOP powerbrokers. That's good news for Joe Capezza, who came to hear Christie speak last night.

JOE CAPEZZA: I think he'd make an outstanding candidate. He brings a fresh perspective to government. And he's a no-nonsense type of governor.

JAFFE: Do you still hold hope he'll reconsider?

CAPEZZA: I still hold out hope. Yes. I'm the eternal optimist.

JAFFE: When Christie took the stage, he, of course, praised Ronald Reagan as a role model, talked about how America can't lead the world unless the country pulls together to solve problems. Most of all, he said he believed in telling people the uncomfortable truth, which he had plenty of chances to do when he took questions after the speech. This was question number two.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you reconsidering or are you standing firm?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Listen, I have to tell you the truth. You folks are an incredible disappointment as an audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: The fact that that took to the second question...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JAFFE: Christie referred the crowd to a nearly two-minute montage of his many previous denials that the website Politico put together.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

MAN: Going to run?

CHRISTIE: No. Not going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You're still saying categorically not running in 2012.

CHRISTIE: No. I'm not running. I'm 100 percent certain I'm not going to run. I don't want to run. I don't feel like I'm ready to run. First, you have to have - in your heart you've got to want it more than anything else, more than anything else. I don't want it that badly.

JAFFE: But that wasn't enough for this New Jersey transplant.

WOMAN: As my Italian mother, she told me to tell you that you've got to run for president.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

JAFFE: Another woman in the audience thought begging might work.

WOMAN: I really implore you, as a citizen of this country, to please, sir, to reconsider. Don't even say anything tonight. Of course you would. Go home and really think about it. Please.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JAFFE: Christie's appeal to Republicans is undeniable. He's charismatic, blunt, even confrontational. He's pushed through changes to public employee benefits and a cap on property taxes, both of which are popular with conservatives. But the clamor for Christie to throw his hat in the presidential ring isn't all about him, says former Republican communications consultant Dan Schnur.

DAN SCHNUR: There would probably not be this kind of speculation about a Christie candidacy if Perry had not run into his recent troubles.

JAFFE: Texas Governor Rick Perry became the frontrunner right after he got into the presidential race. But then he had lackluster performances in three debates and disappointed conservatives with his position on illegal immigration. Former frontrunner Mitt Romney remains popular with much of the party establishment, but that's not enough these days, says Schnur.

SCHNUR: Previous establishment candidates were favored by the party hierarchy and the grassroots ultimately fell into line. Well, the Republican Party grassroots, the Tea Party and other activist organizations, are much stronger and much more influential.

JAFFE: So the Republican presidential field remains unsettled. That means that rumors will probably continue to swirl around a possible Chris Christie candidacy, and his fans are clearly not ready to take no for an answer.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Simi Valley, California.

GREENE: And we'll be following the presidential campaign straight to the finish right here at NPR News.

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