PARSIPPANY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Mitt Romney took the stage to cheers from the faithful.
Governor Chris Christie told a crowd of donors Monday night that Romney is the most qualified GOP candidate to lead the country as president. The private fundraiser at the Hilton in Parsippany was expected to net Romney $1.1 million for his campaign.
General admission tickets cost $500 and donors contributing $2,500 were allowed to attend VIP receptions.
“There are more Republicans here than in my whole state,” Romney told the crowd.
Romney, in need of some momentum, stayed to themes of patriotism and self governance, reports CBS 2′s Sean Hennessey.
“The right answer is to believe in America and believe in the principles that made us the hope of the Earth,” Romney said.
During his speech to New Jersey Republicans, he never once mentioned frontrunner Newt Gingrich, who has catapulted past Romney in several key states.
One political analyst said Romney’s problem is he’s always playing defense, waiting for others to make a mistake, and that without a change in game plan, he could be on the sidelines well before November.
“He has to find more ways to be aggressive and provide an affirmative rationale for his campaign,” said Baruch College analyst David Birdsell.
Birdsell said the GOP establishment has never been enthralled with the former Massachusetts governor and seems to have found hope, for now, in Gingrich.
“Gingrich has figured out how to speak the language of popular outrage, which is so important, particularly in the component of the tea party Republican base,” Birdsell said.
And Saturday night’s debate misstep didn’t help. With Gingrich soaring in key polls, Romney tried to take him down a notch, demanding that Gingrich return $1.6 million he got as a consultant to Freddie Mac, the home mortgage company, reports CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer.
“I would say that if Gov. Romney would like to give back all the money he earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain I would be glad to then listen to him. And I’ll bet you $10, not $10,000, that he wont take the offer,” Gingrich said.
The last dig was a reference to a controversial — and startling — wager Romney made at the weekend debate.
“Rick, I’ll tell you what, 10,000 bucks… $10,000 bet,” Romney said.
The wager was that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was wrong about claims Romney supported an individual health insurance mandate in his book, “No Apology,” but Democrats saw it as an opening to pile on Romney, creating one attack ad that used a sound bite with Romney saying “corporations are people my friend.”
The bet sparked charges that Romney may be out of touch with economic challenges facing Americans. That forced Christie to defend Romney, whom he has endorsed.
“The picking of the number $10,000, I’m sure was Gov. Romney saying ‘That’s how sure I am. I’m willing to bet that much money — that’s how sure I am Rick that you’re lying.’ I think that’s all it was,” Christie said.
Christie also said that he still believes Romney has the best chance to defeat President Barack Obama and that Republican voters will select him as the nominee.
“In the end no one has voted yet, and when people start to vote, I think what they’re going to decide is that Gov. Romney is the person who is best going to serve our party and who is the absolute best person to defeat President Obama next November,” Christie said.
During an earlier stop Monday at a Manchester, N.H., diner Romney unexpectedly ran into a gay Vietnam veteran, who confronted him about gays in the military.
“You don’t support same-sex marriage?” asked resident Bob Garon.
“I believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” Romney replied.
“Believe that everyone is not entitled to their constitutional rights?” Garon shot back.
“No, I think the time the constitution was written it was pretty clear that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Romney said.
An aide tried to remove Romney from the situation, saying he had another interview to do. To which the vet replied “Oh, I guess the question was too hot.”
He then wished Romney good luck.
Right now, Romney has lost his position atop the GOP leader board to Gingrich, who is currently ahead in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida. Romney still leads in New Hampshire.
Despite the slide in the polls, New Jersey’s faithful didn’t sound too worried Monday night.
“I don’t think it bothers me. There’s still too much time to go,” supporter Lynne Oakes said.
But not too much time before voters in key states begin making their preferences known.
What do you make of Romney’s comments and Christie’s response? Share your thoughts below…