With a bridge scandal potentially behind him, Chris Christie is taking a now-clear road to help fellow Republicans — and himself — on the campaign trail.
As head of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), Christie is ramping up his support for Republican governors nationwide, trying to regain ground ahead of the 2016 race for the White House.
In June, Christie made five trips to four different states on behalf of the RGA, with a repeat swing through Pennsylvania. But by September, his itinerary had more than doubled, as he will visit a dozen more states by the end of the month.
The frequent travel isn’t just limited to governor’s races — it allows Christie to stump for top GOP Senate candidates and also gives him ample opportunity to regain a position as a GOP presidential front-runner. And it shows that Republicans in close races are not shying away from him as a surrogate and fundraiser.
Christie has spent much of his time working on behalf of fellow GOP governors, but he has also tried to use his influence in several contested Senate races as well. He has spent time in New Hampshire campaigning on Scott Brown’s behalf, and has also spent time in North Carolina and Michigan working on the behalf of Thom Tillis and Terri Lynn Land, respectively.
“He’s shedding pounds and racking up frequent flier miles,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “His focus has been on running for the nomination.”
In those travels, Christie is hitting up a broad variety of locales that could help bolster a 2016 bid. Appearing several times on his itinerary in the last few months are early primary states like New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.
But Christie, who would be a formidable general election candidate thanks to his ability to win over moderates and some Democrats, is also repeatedly visiting presidential swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
And all along the way, Christie is lending his support and fundraising prowess to a host of GOP heavyweights who could prove useful in two years.
“Part of the case he will have to make when he runs for president is the record the RGA has in this cycle,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist.
The map for GOP governors is a tough one in 2014. And Republicans are playing defense in many of those races. Of the 27 governors races happening nationwide, 16 are held by Republicans. Democrats are expected to pick up a spot in Pennsylvania by ousting Gov. Tom Corbett, who has fallen well behind in the polls. And eight Republican governors are fending off challengers in races considered “toss ups” by Real Clear Politics, compared to six for Democrats. A solid run by Republicans could lead to GOP gains among governors in 2014, but it’s looking just as likely, if not moreso, that the party could lose top state spots come November.
Christie’s travel with the RGA has allowed him to cast a broad net and put himself in front of a host of GOP voters. In addition to swing states and early primary states, Christie has also spent time in very conservative parts of the country, like Alabama and Arkansas, appearing before voters who might be wary of his blue-state roots.
The ramped-up travel schedule comes as signs emerge that Christie could be cleared in a traffic jam scandal that upended his early momentum as a presidential pick. A New York NBC affiliate reported earlier this month that a federal probe into the politically motivated closure of the George Washington Bridge had found no signs Christie knew about it, although that probe is still ongoing.
That scandal threw Christie off the front-runner track when it first emerged, but the lack of evidence pointing to his knowledge is giving him some distance from that event. Christie has always professed his ignorance of the traffic jam created as political retribution, blaming the event on former staff.
As Christie continues to travel, he also is able to lean on his fundraising prowess as proof he is a strong 2016 candidate. Under his leadership, the RGA has broken fundraising records, bringing in more than $75 million. And that haul is all the more impressive given that most of the attention, and dollars, have been spent on the GOP bid to take over the Senate.
“The RGA credential does matter for you because you get to travel a lot and raise money, but what matters more is the record you had when you were there,” said Mackowiak. “So far, from what I can tell, Christie’s been pretty active and pretty successful.”