Chris Christie heads home to weigh 2016 campaign's future

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Chris Christie Going Back to N.J. To 'Take a Deep Breath'

NASHUA, New Hampshire — Gov. Chris Christie said he'll head home to New Jersey to decide the fate of his presidential bid after a disappointing low finish in Tuesday night's primary in the Granite State.

"We came here to say that speaking your mind matters, that experience matters, that competence matters, and that it will always matter in leading our nation," Christie told supporters at a primary night party. "That message was heard by a lot of folks and it was stood for by a lot of folks here in New Hampshire, just not enough. Not enough tonight."

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Christie's concession speech seemed to signal an imminent departure from the race: "We want to see exactly what happens," he said. "Then it's going to allow us to make a decision."

The New Jersey governor seemed primed to be the race's brash, straight-talking candidate, but front-runner and New Hampshire's victor Donald Trump held that place in the race, leaving Christie polling in the single digits nationally. Still, the candidate said he saw sparks of promise after a strong debate performance on Saturday, when Christie derailed the surging Marco Rubio by portraying him as an empty suit reciting rehearsed talking points, and made a compelling case for a more-experienced candidate.

But the clash was more suicide than salvation for Christie, with voters instead flocking to his experienced rivals Gov. John Kasich and Gov. Jeb Bush, who came in second and third respectively here. As Christie threw tough punches at Rubio, which supporters and critics of the governor agreed came off a bit harsh, Kasich and Bush were able to boast of their own resumes, staying largely on message and positive.

See Chris Christie on the campaign trail:

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Chris Christie heads home to weigh 2016 campaign's future
Republican Presidential hopeful Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015. (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
THIS WEEK - 10/4/15 - Presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appears on THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images)
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MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0319 -- Pictured: (l-r) Governor Chris Christie during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on August 31, 2015 -- (Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SQUAWK BOX -- Pictured: Governor Chris Christie in an interview on August 27, 2015 -- (Photo by: David Orrell/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - AUGUST 25: New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie speaks at Chabad House at Rutgers University to express his opposition to President Obama's Iran deal on August 25, 2015 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Christie also encouraged U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) to oppose the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 22: Republican presidential candidate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tosses a pork burger on the grill at the Iowa Pork Producers Tent at the Iowa State Fair on August 22, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates have a long tradition of making campaign stops at the fair. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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Christie's victory party — pegged "primary night headquarters" — had a grim, glum feel that seemed to circulate around a busy bar. Few smiles dotted the crowd despite the peppy music that included Journey's optimistic anthem "Don't Stop Believing." Few expected him to leave the race on Tuesday, instead hoping he could hold on for just a little bit longer.

The going gets a lot tougher after Tuesday night. Just five candidates leave New Hampshire with clear ticket forward: CBS News said Tuesday it will only allow the top five finishers in New Hampshire onto the stage of Saturday night's Republican debate in South Carolina.

"It's both the magic and mystery of politics that you never quite know which is going to happen," Christie said.

Christie joins former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who scored 4 percent of the race here after being excluded from last Saturday night's debate, and retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who grabbed just 2 percent.

Carson never put much effort into wooing the Granite State, spending just a handful of days here while instead focusing on Iowa and South Carolina, states with strong evangelical voting blocks, while Fiorina made a concerted effort but struggled to capitalize on any momentum she might have seen when she was excluded from Saturday night's debate.

SEE ALSO: Clinton's loss to Sanders exposes weakness of message—and messenger

Fiorina gave extremely brief remarks at her own watch party, calling on supporters to "fight with me" as she moves forward. She's vowed a long-term strategy and plans to head straight to Nevada now — skipping South Carolina — where she's polling poorly and seems unlikely to qualify for the debate.

Early Tuesday, just hours into voting, Fiorina's RV pulled up to a polling site in Bedford, New Hampshire where it was greeted but just a handful of journalists — much of the press was busy chasing Sen. Marco Rubio.

"When I started I was 17 out of 16," Fiorina said, firmly deflecting questions about how the low-polling candidate would go forward after what was expected to be another disappointing night. "We're going all the way."

See the candidates in New Hampshire:

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Chris Christie heads home to weigh 2016 campaign's future
US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders celebrates victory during a primary night rally in Concord, New Hampshire, on February 9, 2016. Political novice Donald Trump and self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire's presidential primaries Tuesday, US media projected, turning the American political establishment on its head early in the long nominations battle. / AFP / Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
HOOKSETT, NH - FEBRUARY 09: Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at her primary night gathering at Southern New Hampshire University on February 9, 2016 in Hooksett, New Hampshire. Rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) was projected the winner shortly after the polls closed. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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John Kasich, governor of Ohio and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, center, greets voters while arriving with his wife Karen Waldbillig Kasich, left, at a polling station at Broken Gound Elementary School in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Voters in New Hampshire took to the polls today in the nation's first primary in the U.S. presidential race. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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MANCHESTER, NH - FEBRUARY 09: Republican presidential candidate Jim Gilmore outside the polling place at Webster School on primary day February 9, 2016 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Candidates from both parties are making last-minute attempts to swing voters to their side on the day of the 'First in the Nation' presidential primary. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
CONCORD, NH - FEBRUARY 09: democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders walks through downtown Concord on election day on February 9, 2016 in Concord, New Hampshire. Sanders, who is expected to win over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, greeted voters before taking a short walk where he was mobbed by members of the media. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, left, stands for a photograph behind her campaign RV after visiting a polling station in Bedford, New Hampshire, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Voters in New Hampshire took to the polls today in the nation's first primary in the U.S. presidential race. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
MANCHESTER, NH - FEBRUARY 09: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush greets voters outside the polling place at Webster School on primary day February 9, 2016 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Candidates from both parties are making last-minute attempts to swing voters to their side on the day of the 'First in the Nation' presidential primary. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 presidential candidate, greets campaign volunteers outside a polling station in Bedford, New Hampshire, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Voters in New Hampshire took to the polls today in the nation's first primary in the U.S. presidential race. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, center, greets a resident during a visit to a polling station in Bedford, New Hampshire, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Voters in New Hampshire took to the polls today in the nation's first primary in the U.S. presidential race. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DERRY, NH - FEBRUARY 09: Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) poses for a picture with Frank Fiorina, husband of republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, outside of a polling station at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School on February 9, 2016 in Derry, New Hampshire. New Hampshire voters are heading to the polls in the nation's first primaries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - FEBRUARY 09: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) steps off his campaign bus outside the polling place at Webster School to thank supporters February 9, 2016 in Manchester, New Hampshire. With a good showing in the Iowa caucuses, Rubio has stepped into the crosshairs of fellow Republicans running for president and super PACs that want to slow his momentum with attacks on what they call his robotic and repetative messaging. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks to the crowd during a rally February 8, 2016 in Manchester, NH. US presidential candidates, including billionaire Donald Trump and under-pressure Democrat Hillary Clinton, criss-crossed snowy New Hampshire in a final frantic bit to win over undecided voters before Tuesday's crucial primary. / AFP / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
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Walking through the middle school serving as a polling place, Fiorina shook hands with a woman.

"Thank you for your support!" Fiorina said, beaming and shaking the woman's hand before heading off to greet poll workers.

But after she walked away, Michelle Flynn, 51, admitted that she hadn't voted for her.

"I voted for Rubio," she admitted in hushed tones. "I love her platform, I just felt like where she was polling she was fighting upstream so hard."

More on NBCNews.com:
Trump Win, Rubio Collapse Plunge GOP Race Into Chaos
Chris Christie Heads Home to Weigh Campaign's Future
Clinton Turning to Obama Kingmaker After Bruising Loss

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