GOP donors worried about N.J. Gov. Chris Christie's 2016 prospects

By Thomas Beaumont

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Feb. 4, 2014, file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks in Keansburg, N.J., at a gathering of residents whose homes in Keansburg, were heavily damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Where just months ago Republicans brimmed with pride in Christie’s landslide re-election, doubts about his prospects as a potential presidential candidate have begun creeping quietly into the minds of some donors in key states, according to some GOP fundraisers.

Mel Evans, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CHICAGO — Where just months ago Republicans brimmed with pride over Chris Christie's landslide re-election, doubts about his prospects as a potential presidential candidate have begun creeping into the minds of some donors in key states, according to some GOP fundraisers.

The celebrity New Jersey governor is in Chicago Tuesday to raise money for the Republican Governors Association that he chairs. While Christie gets credit for helping raise millions of dollars to help hold the GOP's edge in governorships this fall, what was supposed to be a re-election victory tour featuring him as a rising national leader has sparked a different conversation.

Ann Herberger, a national Republican fundraiser based in Florida, said Christie's robust persona and blunt style can pack a room. Some donors, however, have expressed reservations about his future because of the flap over the closure of two access lanes to the heavily traveled George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and Manhattan for four days last September.

Emails from a top political adviser and between a top Christie aide and a Port Authority official he appointed cast the traffic-snarling lane closures as retaliation for a local mayor's decision not to endorse Christie's re-election. Christie fired the aide and his political adviser but has denied authorizing or knowing about the scheme until the emails became public last month.

"There are influential donors who are giving him a second and third look," Herberger said of Christie. "Where they would have been 'this is the guy' two months ago, I think a lot of people are giving him a second look and keeping their powder dry."

"But that could change, too," said Herberger. "There's so much time between now and the primaries."

Herberger is a longtime fundraiser for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another 2016 GOP presidential prospect. While her comments echoed those of some fundraisers in a handful of battleground states, far more Republican donors and officials are publicly withholding judgment on Christie until it's clear whether his adamant denial of involvement in the lane closures withstands scrutiny.

If it does, he survives as a 2016 prospect. If it doesn't, he's finished, his most vocal advocates agree. Christie has said he won't decide for another year whether to run for president.

"I'm just not seeing" donor apprehension, said Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. "We're off to a historically strong start."

Christie's political future aside, the RGA has raised $15 million since December, when Christie became its chairman, said Gail Gitcho, the association's communication director. That includes $6 million in January, when internal state email about the traffic scandal was becoming public. The group had raised $5 million over the same period before the 2010 midterm elections, RGA executive director Phil Cox said. Christie was expected to raise more than $1 million for the group on the one-day trip to Chicago, he added.

Still, there was no escaping the questions hanging over the 2016 presidential prospect Tuesday. In New Jersey, Christie representatives were scheduled to ask state officials if his political fundraisers can raise extra money to pay for the requirements of complying with subpoenas related to the allegations that the George Washington Bridge traffic snarl was politically motivated.

Christie planned to attend a private Tuesday morning fundraiser for Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin. He also scheduled an hourlong public appearance Tuesday before roughly 1,600 Chicago business elites and a full contingent of national press at the Economic Club of Chicago.

He planned to take prepared questions in a session moderated by Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown — his first public appearance since his two-hour news conference Jan. 9 on the traffic scandal. Private meetings in the afternoon with high-dollar donors were to be capped with a dinner at the home of billionaire couple Ken and Anne Griffin.

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