Washington (CNN) – With characteristic brio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie informed the world Tuesday that he will not seek the Republican presidential nomination.
"New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me," Christie said at a press conference in Trenton.
And now the Republicans who pined for the blunt-talking governor to enter the presidential race are stuck with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Though Perry has fallen behind Romney in the polls after a pair of shaky debate performances and questions about his conservative bona fides, high-level GOP donors and veteran party operatives who wanted Christie to run still regard Perry and Romney as the main contenders for the nomination.
In the hours after the New Jersey governor issued his final and definitive statement about the 2012 race, Romney's campaign worked feverishly to sign up the bundlers who were pressing Christie to get in.
"There is certainly an effort under way to reach out to them," said Austin Barbour, a member of Romney's finance team. "I think the majority of them will come on board because they see the polling in the key states and even the national polls."
Romney appeared to be making headway.
Two of the GOP moneymen who were urging Christie to run appear to be headed to Romney. A Romney campaign aide confirms to CNN that Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone has decided to become a financial supporter to the campaign. Meanwhile, billionaire supermarket magnate Jon Catsimatidis was also reportedly signing on with Team Romney before the close of business on Tuesday.
Campaigning in Florida, Romney had kind words for Christie.
"Competition is always a good thing and he would have been a very fine contender and competitor if he were in the race," Romney said.
With Christie choosing to remain on the sidelines, Romney ducked a fight with a potentially fierce opponent.
Both Romney and Christie would have done battle on the moderate, establishment-friendly side of the Republican primary, with Perry appealing more to the grassroots conservative wing of the party.
Yet even as Republicans in Washington and on Wall Street began taking sides Tuesday, polls continue to show that the voters around the country are far from decided.
Polls out Tuesday indicated that Christie would have siphoned support from both Romney and Perry if he ran.
Among Republican voters surveyed by Quinnipiac University, Christie and Romney tied at 17%, with businessman and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain at 12% and Perry at 10%.
Without Christie in the race, his rivals all gained: Romney led the pack with 22%, Cain followed at 17% and Perry took 14%.
Christie's numbers were lower in a Washington Post/ABC News survey also released Tuesday, but Romney and Perry both polled better without him in the race.
And waiting on the sidelines is former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has to decide whether to join the race on Oct. 28, the filing date for the New Hampshire primary and the first hard deadline for any Republican considering a White House bid.
A source close to the Palins said Tuesday that they continue to view the race as "wide open," a characterization few Republicans would dispute.
The topsy-turvy GOP race has been more fluid than any in modern memory, and there are still three months of campaigning to be had before the Iowa caucuses.
Romney, the nominal frontrunner, has been stranded around 25% in nearly every poll taken this year and has yet to prove that he can grow his base of support.
Perry joined the race as a juggernaut in August but fell in national surveys after his opponents raised questions about his record on illegal immigration and his executive order mandating that middle school girls be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease.
Cain, a virtual unknown before the race began, has vaulted into the top tier of the GOP field after a charismatic and plain-spoken debate performance in Orlando last month.
Candidates like Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman have joined the 2012 race to great fanfare, only to stumble.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was once widely regarded as the establishment alternative to Romney, and he dropped out of the race in August.
In Iowa, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum may be climbing and Texas Rep. Ron Paul continues to poll in double digits.
Huntsman is slowly gaining traction in New Hampshire even before running a single television ad there, which could force Romney to look over his shoulder in a primary state he must win.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has also been on an upward trajectory after a string of impressive debate showings.
According to Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, Christie's decision not to run "means the field is probably settled, even though the voters aren't."
Romney must prove he can withstand attacks that are now certain to come his way, he said.
"Now Romney will be tested in a more forceful way than ever," said Castellanos, who advised Romney in 2008 but is not aligned with any campaign this time around. "He better strap on his helmet for the next debate."