New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the new chief of the Republican Governors Association, one of the most popular governors in the country, and a potential presidential candidate, is poised to be a superstar surrogate for as many as 20 Republican chief executives seeking reelection in 2014.
But revelations that his top allies engineered a massive traffic jam to get back at a local mayor could diminish his appeal as a headliner for fellow Republicans. A test looms next Saturday, when he is slated to headline fundraisers for Gov. Rick Scott in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando.
"I just hope he doesn't snarl up the traffic on the Pensacola bridge," quipped state Senate President Don Gaetz, one of the highest ranking Republicans in the state. "Obviously Gov. Christie has got some image problems right now but I think he has a lot of admirers in Florida. People like his New Jersey style, and hopefully he will be of some positive reinforcement to Gov. Scott."
While much of the coverage of the traffic scandal has revolved around its possible impact on Christie's 2016 ambitions, any effect on his fundraising prowess on behalf of fellow Republicans will be evident more quickly. Republican Party sources say he is still planning to attend the Scott events.
"We always welcome Gov. Christie to Florida," said state House Speaker Will Weatherford, another top Florida Republican. "An unfortunate situation has taken place and he's addressed it. He's not hiding from it. I think he handled it well."
The governor held a marathon press conference in Trenton, N.J., on Thursday to respond to questions about his office's role in shutting down lanes to the George Washington Bridge, creating four days of traffic gridlock. Emails suggest the closure was aimed at aggravating the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who did not endorse Christie for reelection in November. That cuts into Christie's image as a no-nonsense, can-do chief executive who puts Republican politics aside to govern his Democratic-leaning state.
Christie's value as a GOP ambassador in other states comes down to his charisma and ability to attract publicity and top-drawer donors from both parties. Scott is raising money rapidly but the longtime hospital executive doesn't generate the excitement of a bombastic potential 2016 contender like Christie. The trip to Florida could be mutually beneficial: Scott gets to bask in the glow of a headliner, while Christie gets exposure in a donor-rich swing state where he could be spending a lot of time in 2016. Now, the event's success depends on whether any new revelations emerge and how Christie handles the ongoing media storm.
The New Jersey governor is only the beginining of what is expected to be a procession of national figures campaigning for Scott. As a top target for Democrats in the largest battleground state in the country, Scott's reelection is viewed as one of the marquee races of 2014. The Democratic front-runner, Charlie Crist, served as the Republican governor before Scott. He left the GOP after his 2010 Senate campaign soured and later became a Democrat.