Four Republicans running for Illinois governor face a primary election in five weeks, and just one planned to appear publicly with Chris Christie during his fundraising and speaking stops in Chicago today.
The embattled New Jersey governor should be getting used to his party colleagues shunning photo opportunities with him following the furor raised by politically motivated lane closures and traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge created by his administration.
During stops in Texas and Florida in recent weeks, office holders and candidates in his party also skipped public appearances with Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Democrats have pounced on the bridge story, seeking to tarnish a potential presidential contender as well as other Republicans who appear with him.
“With every state he visits, Republicans are running for the hills,” said former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who headlined a Democratic National Committee news conference in Chicago today. “It’s time for Governor Christie to stop the condescension, the attacks and the bluster and to answer the questions.”
Illinois state Senator Bill Brady, one of the Republicans running for governor, opted to weather such criticism and appear with Christie today while fellow state Senator Kirk Dillard, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner didn’t. They are competing in a March 18 primary to win the right to challenge Democratic Governor Pat Quinn.
Christie is traveling nationwide to raise millions for the RGA, an assignment that was supposed to help boost his national standing ahead of a potential 2016 White House bid. His stops today include a fundraising dinner at the home of Ken Griffin, founder of Chicago-based hedge-fund firm Citadel LLC, and an address before the Economic Club of Chicago with Greg Brown, chief executive officer of Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola Solutions Inc.
The RGA downplayed the fact that Christie wasn’t expected to stand with candidates for governor in Illinois today.
“The events Governor Christie are attending are on behalf of the RGA to raise funds for the RGA,” said the group’s spokesman, Jon Thompson. “The RGA usually doesn’t get involved in primaries, which is why the events were not originally designed to feature any candidates.”
That will change once a Republican nominee is selected in Illinois, Thompson said.
“We have no doubt the RGA will be highly involved in the Illinois governor’s race in the nine months to come, and will work closely with the eventual GOP nominee,” he said.
Ahead of the Chicago visit, the RGA sought to rebuff the notion that Christie is a wounded warrior for the party, releasing what it said were robust fundraising figures.
The association raised $6 million in January, Thompson said. That was more than twice as much as has been raised during that month in RGA history and twice as much as collections in January 2010, the month the group said was most comparable to this year’s election-year fundraising.
Last week, Christie raised $1.5 million during a swing through Texas, Thompson said. The governor is scheduled to attend fundraising events in the coming weeks and months in Massachusetts, Utah, Georgia, Connecticut and Michigan.
The bridge scandal has provided fodder for opponents portraying Christie as a bully and undermined his claim to bipartisan leadership. He had been the one prospective Republican candidate to run most competitively in polls against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is considering a Democratic bid for president in 2016.
After it was learned that Christie allies were responsible for the lane closures, Clinton moved ahead of him, 46 percent to 38 percent among voters, in a Jan. 21 survey by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University. That compares with a December poll by the university that showed the two essentially tied, with about 40 percent support for each.
The governor’s dominance among the prospective Republican candidates also has declined. A Jan. 23 Washington Post poll showed Christie with 14 percent support, compared with 18 percent for both House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. That represented a 10-percentage-point slide from the 24 percent support Christie garnered in a CNN/ORC poll taken after his November re-election.
The RGA, an organization free of contribution limits, raised $27 million in the last six months of 2013 with a total of $50 million for the year, according to its latest Internal Revenue Service filing.
Among the group’s biggest donors were Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson and Limited Brands Inc. CEO Leslie Wexner; each gave $1 million. Koch Industries Inc., the company whose founders Charles and David Koch have helped finance Tea Party groups, gave $525,000, and David Koch chipped in another $1.25 million. Rex Sinquefield, a Missouri entrepreneur who has also backed the limited-government movement, contributed $250,000.
The Democratic Governors Association reported raising $28 million for the full year.
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