Candidates — or teasers?

Chris Christie (top) insists he’s not running for president, but he flies around the country giving speeches and raising money for Republicans. Donald Trump briefly was a GOP candidate, and now won’t rule out running as an independent. And Sarah Palin gets air time by hinting that she will announce some decision soon.

NEW YORK — Chris Christie isn’t running for president, but said he’s listening to those who want him to. Donald Trump opted out of a bid for the Republican nomination, but hasn’t ruled out running as an independent.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s aides are courting New Hampshire activists. And Sarah Palin said she’ll decide soon whether to join the field, even as she worries that the White House might be “too shackling.”

Welcome to The Big Tease, when political stars stoke the hopes of supporters by hinting that they just might join the presidential fray.

A few do succumb to the temptation, most recently Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who joined the GOP field in August after months of insisting that he had no interest. Others milk their moment in the spotlight, boosting their national stature, broadening their fundraising base and laying the foundation for a possible future run.

It happens in many presidential years. Democrats swooned, for a while, for New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1992; there was a Gen. Wesley Clark boomlet in 2004 and a drumbeat around former Republican Sen. Fred Thompson in 2008.

Cuomo stayed out, but his prolonged indecision earned him the nickname Hamlet on the Hudson. Clark and Thompson both jumped in late, only to flame out quickly.

Perry already has learned the perils of a late entry.

After joining the race with great fanfare and rocketing to the top of the polls, Perry’s shaky performance in two nationally televised debates have left many GOP activists worried that he isn’t prepared to be the party’s standard bearer against President Barack Obama.

But many in the party also remain skeptical of Mitt Romney. He’s had a relatively smooth run this time after losing the nomination in 2008, but he still hasn’t fired up much passionate support.

All of which explains why Christie mania was at full boil Tuesday, when the New Jersey governor delivered a long-planned speech at the Reagan Presidential Library in


He turned in a stinging indictment of both parties’ leadership in Washington. And while he restated his refusal to enter the race, he told a woman begging him to reconsider that he was “touched” by her plea.

Palin, the GOP vice-presidential nominee in 2008, also was pressed on her presidential ambitions Tuesday. She said, again, that she hadn’t made a decision, but did indicate she had concerns about going forward.

“Is a title worth it? Does a title shackle a person?” Palin said. “Are they — someone like me, maverick, you know, I do go rogue, and I call it like I see it, and I don’t mind stirring it up. ... Is a title and is a campaign too shackling?”

Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush, said it is “plain and simple too late” for anyone to join the GOP field. But he said different candidates have different reasons for keeping the speculation alive.

“Chris Christie has a future and needs to be protective of his future. All this interest helps him raise money for Republican candidates and enjoy one last flirtation,” Fleischer said. “Palin beats to a different drum, so this just keeps her in the game longer. She likes being the center of attention.”