Washington: Ahead of next week's "Super Tuesday" nomination contests in 11 states, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump got a significant boost with the surprise endorsement of New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Christie's bombshell on Friday, which may well change the dynamics of the Republican race came a day after Trump's two main rivals - Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz - ganged up against him in a CNN debate that turned into a virtual brawl.
Hours later, Maine's Republican governor Paul LePage, who was a supporter of Christie before he ended his presidential bid, also announced his endorsement of Trump.
Christie's announcement robbed Florida senator Rubio, who is trailing Trump by about 20 points in his home state, of whatever momentum he might have gained from Thursday's feisty debate exchanges with the frontrunner.
Christie, who dropped his presidential bid earlier this month after his poor performance in New Hampshire, showed up unannounced at a Trump event in Fort Worth, Texas to endorse the real estate mogul.
Christie, who had tormented Rubio in a previous debate, again hit out at him as he announced his support for Trump, who he said was destined to win the Republican nomination and was the best person to slug it out with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Trump accompanied his rollout of Christie with a stream of invective against Rubio as their debate night brawl spilled onto the campaign trail.
Trump branded Rubio a "low life," "a nasty little guy," a "basket case" and "a choker" who sweated so much he had to put makeup on with a trowel.
Rubio, in turn, suggested Friday morning that Trump was a "con artist" who was worried about wetting his pants and mocked his spelling before a delighted crowd in Texas.
Asked about whether he would consider Christie as his running mate should he win the nomination, Trump said he didn't "want to discuss that," but added: "He's certainly got the talent."
Trump has previously said that he would pick a running mate with political experience, and not someone from the private sector like himself.
The New York Times, which too came under attack by Trump as "dishonest" and "the absolute worst,", dismissed "the bombastic governor's" announcement as a "Bully Bromance" even as it acknowledged how it might give a significant boost to Trump.
The Washington Post, which Trump alleged had been bought by Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos "to have political influence," asked in an editorial: "Is Mr. Trump a threat to democracy?"
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, multiple polls show Hillary Clinton with a dominant lead over rival Senator Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina primary on Saturday.
Clinton played up her allegiance to President Barack Obama at a rally and pledged to continue fighting for tougher gun laws.
Sanders also held two rallies in South Carolina, but black women, a crucial demographic that helped lift Obama over Clinton in 2008, appear to be leaning heavily toward Clinton this time, the New York Times said.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians. (IANS)