Gov. Chris Christie endorsed the conservative running for U.S. Senate in New Jersey on Tuesday, saying he's "proud" to have Steve Lonegan as the Republican candidate.

Governor Christie (L) and Steve Lonegan (Governor's Office, Lonegan campaign)

Christie announced his support for Lonegan in the Oct. 16 special election at the Hunterdon County Republican Headquarters in Flemington.

"Steve, as usual, ran the type of spirited, principled campaign that he has been known for his entire professional career in the primary," Christie told a crowd sandwiched into a long room where the air conditioning was not working, "and I am proud to have him as our candidate for the United States Senate."

Lonegan faces an uphill challenge in the race against Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark and a rising Democratic star who's better-known to voters. He's also a friend and occasional political ally of Christie, who had been expected to endorse Lonegan but otherwise mostly stay out of the race. But Christie tried to put to rest speculation that he would do little else to aid Lonegan.

"This will not be the only time Steve Lonegan and I will be together between now and Oct. 16," Christie said. "The apparatus of the Republican Party is going to be behind Steve Lonegan."

Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin blasted Christie for endorsing a candidate who represents the GOP's right wing, saying Lonegan would repeal President Obama's health care overhaul and restrict women's access to health care.

But Christie, whose endorsement came by way of a five-minute Lonegan introduction, said he and the candidate share many common beliefs.

"Steve and I have believed, and still believe, in so many of the same things -- we believe in lower taxes, and limited government, we believe in people having more freedom to do the things that they believe are right for themselves and their families without government interfering in those choices," Christie said.

Christie is himself running for re-election and in recent weeks has been staking out the middle ground on issues including gun control and medical marijuana for children. Christie also is a strong contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

Christie set the special Senate election three weeks before his own re-election on Nov. 5, in part to avoid having the race trump his own at the top of the ballot. The governor, who is hoping to win by a landslide against a weak Democratic challenger, did not want to be on the same ballot with Booker for fear the charismatic candidate could bring out Democrats who otherwise wouldn't vote.

Lonegan, who resigned as state director of the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity, kept his speech to three minutes.

"This is an historic moment," he said, "the country's beginning to watch this race, and come Oct. 16, the entire nation is going to watch the state of New Jersey as we put America back on track toward liberty and prosperity and toward economic growth."

A poll released Tuesday has Booker leading by 16 percentage points.

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