Bill Stepien, 36, has been in Christie’s inner circle since the start of the governor’s rise in New Jersey politics — and before the Bridgegate scandal, was among the aides seen as possible campaign managers for a Christie 2016 campaign. Just days before the emails released showed Stepien’s involvement in the George Washington Bridge scandal, Christie announced that he had chosen Stepien to lead the New Jersey GOP, calling him “the best Republican operative in the country.” Stepien had looked poised to lead the state Republican Party, but Christie shut down that option on Thursday. Stepien managed Christie’s successful 2009 gubernatorial bid and has been with the governor in official and campaign roles ever since. After Christie was inaugurated in 2010, Stepien became Christie’s deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs in the governor’s office. He then jumped back over to the campaign side to run Christie’s reelection bid in 2013. One New Jersey newspaper described Stepien as “low key” and said he generally avoids getting quoted about Christie. The aide was set to follow Christie to the Republican Governors Association as a top political adviser when the New Jersey chief executive became chairman late last year; but on Thursday, Christie indicated that Stepien wouldn’t work for the RGA. The organization’s executive director, Phil Cox, previously praised Stepien, saying he “has proven he knows how to win challenging governors’ races in blue states” and that his “expertise and leadership will be critical to our efforts.” Before joining Christie’s inner circle, Stepien had a long history in Republican national politics: He served as national field director for John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid and in the same role for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 campaign. He also has worked for the RNC as its 72-hour campaign director in 2005 and 2006, and as President George W. Bush’s New Hampshire political director in the 2004 election.