Chris Christie is known as an unconventional Republican. That will be on display again this week as he walks into the political den of the Clintons.
The New Jersey governor and Democrat Hillary Clinton, two potential 2016 presidential rivals, will be the headliners at a Chicago conference today and tomorrow on U.S. job creation sponsored by former President Bill Clinton. The Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, also is to participate in the event.
For Christie, the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting represents the latest in a series of unorthodox political moves that have led some Republicans to complain that he's more concerned with his own ambition than his party's needs.
"This isn't something that appeals to the Republican base," said Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. "But that is part of his persona and part of his great appeal to many people."
Christie's appearance will come as other prospective Republican presidential candidates speak today and tomorrow to the party's base at a conference in Washington hosted by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group based in Duluth, Ga.
In her speech today, Hillary Clinton drew her loudest applause when she talked about the importance of women being involved with politics.
"When women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society," she told about 1,000 business, government, and foundation leaders in a hotel ballroom. She called boosting opportunities for women and girls the "great unfinished business of this century."
Clinton said she plans to focus on early childhood development, opportunities for girls and women, and economic development and jobs. She highlighted her international travel as U.S. secretary of state under President Barack Obama as she talked about challenges globally.
Turning to the domestic front, she expressed concerns. "In too many places in our own country, community institutions are crumbling, social and public-health indicators are cratering, and jobs are coming apart," she said.
Bill Clinton told those gathered that the U.S. economy is improving, yet "some rather staggering challenges" remain, including underemployment, student-loan debts, and flat wages.
Christie, 50, and Hillary Clinton, 65, are the most popular 2016 White House prospects from their respective parties, polls show, and their appearances will fuel speculation about their futures.
"Anything that she does -- and anything that she doesn't do -- is significant," Fowler said. "For Christie, these are the kinds of things that presidential wannabes go to where they show how they interact with high-powered people at venues outside their home state."
Clinton has said she has no plans for a second presidential run, following her unsuccessful 2008 bid. She also hasn't ruled it out.
Appearing on stage with her husband carries both positives and negatives. Bill Clinton, 66, is more popular with voters of all political stripes than when he left office in 2001, while her speech also may remind voters that she came up short in her one presidential bid -- a race she began as the favorite to capture the Democratic nomination.
Christie faces a New Jersey re-election test in November. He led Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono 59 percent to 29 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters released this week. In the survey, 65 percent said he deserves another term, including 35 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of independents.
His appearance also could produce mixed results. By speaking at the event, Christie may alienate some of the Republican base he would need to win a presidential nomination. He also could improve his stock back home in his hometown state, where Democrats traditionally dominate.
Christie has shown a tendency toward unconventional political moves in recent months.
Last week, following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, he declined to appoint a fellow Republican to complete the remaining 18 months of the Democrat's term. Instead, Christie set a special election for Oct. 16 and named the state's attorney general, Republican Jeff Chiesa, to serve in the Senate on an interim basis.
His decision, which he said served the best interests of New Jersey citizens, upset national Republicans because it made Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, the favorite to win. Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said a 2014 election would have allowed a Republican to "build trust and name recognition" with voters.
Christie in late May also appeared for the second time with Obama for a tour of the New Jersey shore to inspect the recovery from last October's Hurricane Sandy.
Christie angered some in his party immediately after the storm by praising Obama's handling of the initial federal response -- giving the president a pre-election boost in his race against Republican nominee Mitt Romney. And at year's end, some party colleagues were aggrieved when he criticized U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and his fellow Republicans in the chamber for delays in approving federal storm assistance.
Hillary Clinton, after stepping down from her diplomatic post early this year, has done just enough in the political arena to keep donors and supporters intrigued by the historic potential of backing a candidate who could become the first woman U.S. president.
Earlier this week, she used humor as she signed up with Twitter, the micro-blogging service. She described herself as a "wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate," as well as a first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state, author, dog owner, "hair icon," "pantsuit aficionado," and "glass ceiling cracker." She ended her description with "TBD," meaning "to be determined," something supporters want to mean another White House bid.
"She's having a good time playing cat and mouse," Fowler said.
Clinton has attended Democratic fundraisers and her supporters formed a super-political action committee to back a presidential bid, a move she didn’t block. Late last month, the "Ready for Hillary" super-PAC announced the start of its national finance council.
Founding members are Houston lawyers Steve and Amber Mostyn and Susie Tompkins Buell, a San Francisco philanthropist who co-founded Esprit Holdings Ltd., a clothing company.
Longtime Clinton confidante Harold Ickes has been offering informal advice to the group, and James Carville, another veteran adviser to the Clintons, has lent his name to a fundraising appeal. Craig Smith, a former White House political director under Bill Clinton, is also working as an unpaid adviser.
The group now has more than 200,000 Facebook supporters, more than 60,000 Twitter followers and more than 3,500 donors, said Seth Bringman, its spokesman. He declined to share how much has been raised.
There’s also a PAC backing Christie in his race for governor. The Committee for Our Children's Future has spent millions on New Jersey television ads to boost his campaign.
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