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Christie: 'Romney's the man we need to lead America'

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced his endorsement of Mitt Romney on Tuesday, calling it an "easy decision" to back the former Massachusetts governor's presidential campaign.

Christie, an icon among Republicans this cycle, drew on Romney's experience in the private sector and his time in government to endorse Romney this afternoon, hours before an important debate for presidential candidates in New Hampshire.

"I'm here in New Hampshire today for one simple reason: America cannot survive another four years of Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney's the man we need to lead America, and we need him now," Christie said.

Romney's campaign had worked to court Christie for quite some time; the two have been in contact for months, according to a Romney adviser, and have been so even more frequently since Christie said he wouldn't run. Romney secured the endorsement on Saturday when he and his wife, Ann, traveled to meet with Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, at their private home in New Jersey.

"He's a real hero in Republican circles because he's a man who's been forthright, been clear in his desire to rein in the excessive spending, to hold down debt, and do his best to get New Jersey working again for the people of New Jersey," Romney said in his introduction of Christie. "He is a man who has a following of a lot of folks across this country, and so when he indicated a willingness to join my team, I could not have been more pleased and more happy."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign dispatched somewhat of a response to Christie's announcement, expressing respect for Christie.

"Gov. Perry has the utmost respect for Gov. Christie and looks forward to his help unseating President Obama next year," communications director Ray Sullivan said in a statement. "Until then, Gov. Perry will continue traveling the country talking about job creation and getting America working again."

(Earlier on Fox News, Sullivan said Christie's endorsement was an example of Northeast Republicans "sticking together.")

Christie's endorsement is of tremendous symbolic endorsement for Romney, who's worked to get the GOP establishment to rally around his candidacy in the week since the New Jersey governor declined to seek the presidency.

The New Jersey governor already went on the attack on Romney's behalf, too; Christie decried words on Friday from a Texas pastor, speaking in favor of Perry, who called Romney's Mormon religion a "cult," and Christie called attacks on Romney's health care law as governor "intellectually dishonest."

"These types of religious matters have nothing to do with the quality of somebody's ability to lead," Christie said. "I think that any campaign that associates itself with that type of comment is beneath the office of president of the United States, in my view."

Today's news gives Romney the imprimatur of the blunt-talking governor heading into tonight's debate in New Hampshire, where Romney hopes to grow his tentative lead over the rest of the Republican field.

But it also caps off a week of endorsements for Romney since Christie (and, subsequently, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin) announced his intentions, all but finalizing the stable of candidates for the 2012 cycle. In the past week, Romney has announced endorsement from GOP luminaries (former NH Sen. Judd Gregg and other current lawmakers), party money men (Home Depot cofounder Kenneth Langone, who had urged Christie to run), and party activists (influential Florida conservative Justin Sayfie, et al).

NBC's Garrett Haake contributed from Lebanon, NH