PELHAM, N.H. - Campaigning in New Hampshire this week, Gov. Christie told voters that his patience was wearing thin.
"The old 'you're in my top three' thing ain't going to work anymore, OK?" Christie said at a VFW hall Tuesday in Pelham after telling voters he was prepared to take on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
"You can only vote for one. And I want to be your one," Christie said.
Interviews with more than two dozen attendees at Christie's events over the course of his latest tour through New Hampshire indicate that voters likely to participate in the first Republican presidential primary are getting closer to settling on a candidate - whittling down the crowded GOP field to a handful of top choices.
Most, however, were not there yet - and history suggests a large proportion won't decide until days before the Feb. 9 primary.
A number of voters did say they intended to arrive at a decision earlier, describing their task with a sense of diligence.
"I'm not going to put it off until the last minute," said Eric Trump, 68, of Brentwood, expecting to choose a candidate in the next couple of weeks.
Jim Hirni, 70, of Hollis, said he would make up his mind in January; he said he was planning to "study their positions" when he returns from a cruise. Hirni, who ranks the deficit as his top concern, is leaning toward Christie but also considering former CEO Carly Fiorina and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
While Brian Aron, 56, of Bedford, felt "pretty close" to choosing Christie - after paying attention to the New Jersey governor for several years, watching the debates, and reviewing candidate websites - he said it was important to attend a town-hall meeting Christie held Saturday night in his town.
Without hearing Christie in person, "it wouldn't be a well-considered decision," said Aron, who described Christie as "straightforward, experienced, gets the job done."
In recent weeks, Christie has gained support in New Hampshire, the state where he has focused his campaign. Two recent polls have placed him in fourth place there, with 11 percent support - just behind Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rubio, who were between 12 and 14 percent in the polls. Donald Trump led, with 26 percent in one poll and 32 percent in another.
A number of voters at Christie's events expressed worry over a Trump win.
"I'm terrified he's going to be our nominee," said Chris Freiberger, 58, of Manchester. "I think he's a buffoon, I really do."
Freiberger, a bank chief information officer, had narrowed his list to Christie, Rubio, and Cruz but feared he would confront a "lesser of two evils" decision between Trump and Clinton.
Christie's call for a decision aside, "it's typically very late in the process" that voters choose a candidate, said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
A poll this month by the survey center found that 18 percent of likely GOP primary voters had definitely decided whom they would support. Twenty-six percent were leaning toward a candidate, and 56 percent were still trying to decide.
Four days before the Republican primary in 2012, Smith said, 37 percent of voters polled by the Survey Center said they had definitely decided, with 26 percent leaning toward a candidate and 37 percent trying to decide.
"That's why polling is so erratic at best," Smith said.
He said New Hampshire, which allows independent voters to participate in either party's primary, has higher turnout than other states.
Seeing Christie at the Pelham town-hall meeting Tuesday prompted Jane Greene to reshuffle her ranking. "I came in with him as No. 3, and I think he's moved up two spots," said Greene, 68, of Derry, who now favors Christie over Fiorina ("I want someone who can win") and Rubio, calling Christie's experience as governor superior to a U.S. senator's.
"He's been through quite a bit of awful things, between 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy," said Greene, who owns a 3-D scanning business. But "I don't pay that much attention to what's going on there." Christie often talks to voters at length about the Sept. 11 attacks, describing victims his family knew; he became U.S. attorney for New Jersey just after the attacks, in January 2002.
While activists may commit to candidates early, more casual voters tend "to wait until the last minute," Smith said.
Some voters said they were stuck because it was too difficult to differentiate among the candidates. "They all mimic each other," said Dan Chase, 68, of Stratham. He's still in top-three mode, weighing the merits of Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Jeb Bush.
Chase, who said he is concerned about homeland security and immigration, didn't sound close to making a final decision.
"All I'm looking for is the difference," he said.