Jill Colvin

FORT WORTH, Texas: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday endorsed GOP front-runner Donald Trump, delivering a powerful boost to the billionaire businessman, whom he called the best Republican candidate to lead the country and beat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“I’ve gotten to know all the people on that stage and there is none who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs both at home and around the world than Donald Trump,” Christie said at a news conference in Texas. Reporters were visibly stunned when he walked into the room.

“I can guarantee you that the one person that Hillary and Bill Clinton do not want to see on that stage come next September is Donald Trump,” Christie said.

The endorsement, the first for Trump from a sitting governor and a former rival, comes at a particularly opportune time for the real estate mogul, who on Thursday night faced a barrage of new attacks from rival Marco Rubio during the final debate ahead of Super Tuesday contests.

Rubio hit at Trump’s business record, history of hiring foreign workers and his vague policy positions. The broadsides clearly irritated Trump and threatened to provide Rubio with a jolt of new momentum as he seeks to turn the contest into a two-man race.

Rubio’s team had unveiled a flood of endorsements in recent days to cast him as the GOP’s preferred alternative to Trump, including nods from the governors from Tennessee, Arkansas and South Carolina; U.S. senators from North Carolina, Indiana, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Kansas; and 15 congressmen.

Christie’s move overshadowed them all. “I think this changes the narrative in a dramatic way,” said Fred Malek, a Republican donor who serves as finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

The timing was a coincidence. A former Christie campaign official said the governor made his decision to endorse Trump on Thursday following a meeting in Manhattan attended by the two men and their wives.

Christie was already on a plane heading to Texas as the debate was airing, according to the former official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on Christie’s behalf and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

While Christie’s own campaign for president failed to gain traction in a crowded field, he nonetheless remains a well-regarded figure in the GOP, having served as a top surrogate to 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and as the former chair of the Republican Governors Association.

He is also one of his party’s most effective and vicious attack dogs, a role he embraced within minutes of joining Trump. He slammed Rubio — “Desperate people do desperate things,” he said.