If New Jersey's hard-hitting governor, Chris Christie, finally listens to the pleas of a strident group of Republicans and jumps into the 2012 presidential race, he could take out either of the current GOP frontrunners, says Nate Silver at The New York Times. Because Christie is popular with conservative kingmakers like Rush Limbaugh — not to mention the Tea Party — the Garden State governor is often thought of as a major threat to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who also appeals to conservatives and Tea Partiers. But when you actually look at Christie's rather moderate record — he's backed gun control and immigration reform, and acknowledged that climate change is caused by humans — it's probably Mitt Romney who should watch his back. Here, an excerpt:

The point is not necessarily that Mr. Christie is a centrist, but that he is a pragmatic Republican whose record and rhetoric reflect his job of having to win election, and govern, in a relatively blue state. ... Over all, his record probably reads as being closer to that of Mr. Romney than Mr. Perry. And Mr. Christie could threaten Mr. Romney in another way: By performing strongly in the Northeast, possibly including New Hampshire, a part of the country where Mr. Romney would otherwise hope to rack up momentum and delegates.

But Mr. Christie also has one important difference — and potential advantage — against Mr. Romney. He does not have a reputation ... of being a flip-flopper. Instead, he has often received praise for holding his ground and speaking his mind.

Read the entire article at The New York Times.