CPAC chairman: Christie will likely be invited this year

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will likely be invited to this year's annual Conservative Political Action Conference after being snubbed last year.

American Conservative Union (ACU) Chairman Al Cardenas, whose group runs CPAC, said Christie is "being looked at differently this year" because of his likely presidential campaign.

Cardenas told The Hill that there haven't been any final decisions made but said Christie's 2016 potential makes it more likely that he'll get an invite this year, even as a brewing scandal over a bridge closing last year and other accusations of political playback have swirled around the governor.

According to Cardenas, last year's perceived snub occurred because CPAC had focused more on the “four or five governors who made the greatest contribution to the conservative movement.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) addressed last year's CPAC.

But as Christie maintains an important place on the national stage, he could also take one at the influential annual conservative conference. 

"Now he's being considered as part of the presidential field, that's a totally different set of circumstances," Cardenas said of Christie. "Though we haven't completed the process ... the chances of his being invited are more probable this year than last year."

Christie spoke at CPAC in 2012, but after a series of confrontations between the New Jersey governor and conservatives in late 2012 and early 2013, the ACU decided not to invite him.

Cardenas said at the time that he wasn't invited because of his loud support for a bill to fund Hurricane Sandy relief (and criticism of House Republicans for not passing it) and his decision to expand Medicaid in his state.

The New Jersey governor is currently embroiled in a scandal stemming from his staffers' decision to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge last year, creating days of traffic havoc, as retaliation for a local mayor’s refusal to endorse his reelection.

Cardenas said the scandal could actually help Christie with the conservative base because it doesn't like to see the GOP attacked by the media.

"My sense is if he emerges unscathed from the probes and investigations and political attacks he's now receiving he may end up emerging better liked by the conservative movement," said Cardenas.

"We want to be protective usually of those who are being attacked by the left. From the standpoint of current polling that we've seen he's still one of the top leaders in the potential presidential field. From the standpoint of where he is today with Bridgegate, I don't believe his presidential aspirations have yet been significantly impacted."

If Christie attends, he'll join a number of other big-name Republicans who are considered potential presidential contenders. Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) are already confirmed for the March event, as is Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.).

Cardenas, who is close to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, hinted that the former Florida governor was unlikely to attend, though. Bush spoke at a big-ticket donor dinner at CPAC last year but did not address the full convention.

"He's got pretty busy schedule he usually confirms months out, and doesn't want to be considered a presidential candidate, so by inference if he speaks at the main event that kind of defeats the purpose of staying out of the equation," Cardenas said of Bush. 

Cardenas was noncommittal about repeating another snub from 2013 that stirred controversy. The ACU didn't to allow the gay Republican group GOProud to participate last year. 

Some Republicans and conservatives boycotted the event in response to the ACU's decision. GOProud co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia recently announced he was leaving the Republican Party because of his views that the party is too tolerant of bigotry against gays.

"We invite individuals who've made contributions to the conservative movement regardless of their sexual preference. There will be individuals who are gay who will be invited because of their contributions to the conservative movement," he said. "GOProud will go through the same process as every other organization."