Romney Gets Hit in NJ GOP Crossfire

ABC News' David Chalian Reports:

So much for Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment.

In the closing days of the Republican gubernatorial primary battle in New Jersey between former US Attorney Chris Christie and former Bogota, NJ mayor Steve Lonegan, the idea of not speaking ill of a fellow Republican seems to have gone out the window.

Mr. Christie is the solid frontrunner in this race to take on Gov. Jon Corzine, D-NJ, in the fall and has been racking up the GOP establishment endorsements from Rudy Giuliani to former Gov. Tom Kean.

Today, the Christie campaign added the once and (likely) future presidential aspirant Mitt Romney to the endorsement roster with Mr. Romney's visit to the Garden State this morning where he called Mr. Christie a "strong conservative."

"I'm convinced the challenges facing New Jersey and the rest of the country can be overcome with courageous leadership," said Romney in a written statement. "Chris Christie is a strong conservative voice for balanced budgets, low taxes and more jobs. He will bring badly-needed change to state government," he added.

Mr. Lonegan, the underdog in the race seeking to defeat Christie by rallying the conservative wing of the New Jersey GOP behind his candidacy, was quick to use the Romney endorsement to explain precisely what he sees wrong with Christie's candidacy. As collateral damage, he reminded voters why Mitt Romney's brand is still in need of some rehabilitation along the way.

"Mitt Romney was rejected by Republican Primary voters because he was a moderate trying to pass himself off as a conservative just in time to win an election," blasted Lonegan in a written statement.

"Chris Christie has done the exact same thing in this race, so it follows that Romney would back him. This is a case of one fraudulent moderate trying to help another one. Republican voters will see through Chris Christie the same way they did Mitt Romney last February."

Mayor Lonegan's statement serves as a key reminder of one of Mitt Romney's central challenges in his 2007-2008 run for the Republican presidential nomination. Gov. Romney worked hard to shed perceptions of a more moderate past as a Republican candidate and governor of deeply Blue Massachusetts while courting the votes of conservatives who tend to dominate the presidential nominating process.

As Gov. Romney continues to stake out a role in public policy debates, travel the country to support candidates, and raise money through his Free Strong America PAC, he is widely expected to consider a second presidential run in 2012.

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