POLITICS: PennAve

Chris Christie raises money for GOP, shrugs off 'Bridgegate'

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Republican Party,Campaign Finance,Campaigns,Chris Christie,PennAve,Rebecca Berg,Republican Governors Association,Bridge Scandal,Magazine

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is seeking a new normal.

Six weeks after Christie responded to the “bridgegate” scandal in a two-hour press conference and announced that two of his aides had been fired, questions linger over why access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed for political retribution, and in the decision who was involved. The biggest question, of course, is what Christie knew and when he knew it.

Two investigations, one by the New Jersey legislature and another by the U.S. attorney, will continue to delve into those questions, and perhaps raise more, in the coming weeks.

But Christie, a Republican who is weighing a bid for the presidency in 2016, isn't waiting around for answers. Instead, he is making a public and deliberate effort to move beyond the scandal -- or farther from it, at least -- with a robust slate of travel, fundraising events and public appearances.

Christie visited Chicago last week on behalf of the Republican Governors Association, which he heads, and during remarks to the Economic Club of Chicago turned his attention and rhetoric away from the scandal, which he acknowledged only briefly, to the next presidential election cycle.

“As you look forward to 2016, our party’s priority should be on winning,” Christie said. “Not winning the argument. Winning the election.”

A shift in focus would be greatly to Christie's benefit. As he has faced questions about Bridgegate, other potential Republican presidential contenders, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, have seen their relative popularity tick upward in polls.

Democrats, meanwhile, have delighted in the daily barrage of attacks on Christie -- even following him to Chicago and other RGA stops in Texas and Florida, where they questioned whether he should remain chairman of the association.

“Not even the winds of Chicago can blow away the storm clouds hanging over the head of Gov. Chris Christie,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said during a Democratic news conference in Chicago a few blocks from where Christie later spoke.

Christie has been resolute that he will stick around as RGA chair, and has hoped to build an impressive fundraising war chest as proof of his effectiveness. In Texas, he brought in $1.5 million for the RGA, followed by another $1 million from donors in Chicago. January was the best ever for the RGA.

Christie has not limited his fundraising appearances to the RGA. On Tuesday, he addressed Republican donors and senators as he kicked off the National Republican Senatorial Committee's winter meeting at the Harvard Club in New York City.

During the next few weeks, Christie’s calendar is chock-a-block with other important, meticulously curated opportunities to reconstruct his national brand, particularly among the Republican elite.

On behalf of the RGA, Christie will travel to five more states for fundraising and other events. He will speak at CPAC, the conservative Republican conference in Washington that last year snubbed him as a featured speaker. And he will address the spring leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, the group backed by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate who donated generously to Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign.

And if recent history is an indication, Christie will steer clear of the bridge scandal that has caused him so much political pain.

At his first town hall meeting since the scandal broke, the controversy did not even come up. Instead, Christie spent most of the meeting speaking about recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy.

“I still spend every week, about 40 percent of my personal time on Sandy,” Christie said at the town hall.

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