Chris Christie to Endorse Mitt Romney in New Hampshire

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The nod from the New Jersey governor should help the Republican front-runner solidify his position

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to give Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney his endorsement in the race for GOP nomination, a major coup for Romney that could help him solidify his front-runner status and build an aura of inevitability around his campaign.

Christie is expected to be the "special guest" who will endorse Romney at a campaign appearance at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Lebanon, N.H.

Christie, a rising star in the Republican Party, was wooed by both conservatives and mainstream Republicans to get into the presidential contest himself. But he announced on Oct. 4 he would not run, citing his commitment to New Jersey as a first-term governor. Since then, Christie's blessing has been sought after as one of the biggest plum endorsements of the primary race.

A new NBC News-Marist polls out early Tuesday show Mitt Romney leading the field in both Iowa and New Hampshire, with his lead in the Granite State is considerably more significant.

The former Massachusetts governor leads among likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire with 45 percent, trailed by businessman Herman Cain and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., both of whom are at 13 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is at just seven percent, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman trails the field, with five percent. Eight percent of likely primary voters are undecided.

In the Hawkeye State, Romney's lead is far more precarious: He leads Cain, 26 percent to 20 percent. Paul is at 12 percent, while Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., are at 11 percent each.

The precipitous falls of Perry and Bachmann in Iowa are notable. Cain has claimed the Tea Party mantle in the state -- for the time being -- garnering the support of 31 percent of likely caucusgoers who support the Tea Party, and more than 40 percent of those who "strongly" support the Tea Party.

Image credit: MEL EVANS/AP

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Sarah B. Boxer covers the 2012 presidential race for CBS News and National Journal.

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