Chris Christie Expected in Florida to Campaign for Rick Scott

The Republican is poised to be a superstar surrogate for as many as 20 candidates seeking reelection in 2014. But do they still want him? A test looms next week.

Gov. Rick Scott speaks at a news conference on Wednesday, Jan. 30 2013, at the Capitol during the The Associated Press' annual legislative planning session in Tallahassee, Fla. Scott said he would propose that state legislators boost overall funding for public schools by $1.2 billion in the coming year. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
National Journal
Beth Reinhard
Jan. 10, 2014, 6:08 a.m.

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. 

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