WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Battling
investigations over the "Bridgegate" scandal in his home state, New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie plans to embark on a national tour that
will give him a chance to raise money for fellow Republicans, woo
conservatives and show party leaders that he is not politically toxic.
Christie — widely viewed as the leading contender for the 2016
Republican nomination for president before the scandal over traffic
jams on the George Washington Bridge exploded a month ago — plans to
spend the next month crisscrossing the nation as chairman of the
Republican Governors Association (RGA).
In a tour that will test whether his power as a party fundraiser has
diminished, Christie is scheduled to appear at fundraisers for
Republican candidates, party strategy sessions and other meetings in
Illinois, Texas, New York, Maryland, Georgia and Washington, D.C.
One of Christie's stops will be at a meeting of the influential
Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The group snubbed
Christie last year, in a move that many saw as retribution for the
governor's kind words for Democratic President Barack Obama in the
aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, which struck New Jersey just before
the 2012 presidential election.
CPAC officials did not respond to Reuters' questions about their
decision to invite Christie. Their invitation to him comes as many
Republican leaders appear to be keeping an arm's length from
Christie without disavowing him, hoping that the New Jersey scandal
Christie has denied knowing in advance about his aides' orders to
close lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New
Jersey in September. His aides were alleged to have carried out the
closures as political retribution against a local official who
declined to endorse Christie for re-election.
At least three Christie aides have left his camp amid federal and
state investigations into the lane closures, which created traffic
jams over four days. Christie's popularity in state and national
polls has dropped dramatically, raising doubts about his viability
as a potential contender for the White House.
But "unless the facts change, I don't see major Republican party
officials or major donors treating Governor Christie differently
from how they have been" since the initial news broke, said
Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak, noting that the upcoming trip
will give Christie a chance to boost their confidence.
"Could he use an existing travel plan to try to relaunch himself and
highlight his own record and fix areas he wants to? Sure. CPAC is
probably part of that," Mackowiak said.
SUPPORT FOR CHRISTIE
Christie's office referred questions to the RGA, which emphasized
that the fundraisers he will attend in Illinois and Texas have been
planned since December — and so are not part of any plan to give
Christie what amounts to a comeback tour.
The RGA, which is made up of the country's 29 Republican state
governors, has affirmed its confidence in Christie since the scandal
began last month.
But in light of the scandal, some supporters and Republican Party
contributors privately have expressed concerns about Christie's
ability to raise money for Republican candidates for state
governorships, even with his longtime close ties to Wall Street
Christie's first stops on his tour will be in conservative Texas,
where he will attend RGA events in Dallas and Fort Worth on
Thursday. On February 11, Christie will speak at the Economic Club
of Chicago and attend RGA events that include a fundraiser.
The following week he will speak at the National Republican
Senatorial Committee retreat in New York City — home to more of his
biggest donors — before heading to the National Governors
Association meeting in Washington three days later.
During the first week of March he will court the Republican Party's
conservative wing at CPAC's meeting just outside of Washington. He
then will speak at the American Enterprise Institute's World Forum
in Georgia on March 8.
"CPAC is helpful for him now. He needs conservatives to help him in
his current crisis, and he's likely running for president and
doesn't want to earn the ire of conservatives more than he already
has," Mackowiak said.
The CPAC meeting also will feature other potential contenders for
the Republican presidential nomination, including Florida Senator
Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Wisconsin Representative
Paul Ryan, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.