Who wants a visit from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie this weekend? Florida Gov. Rick Scott does.
Before last week’s bridge scandal struck Christie, Republican Scott was set to kick off his 2014 re-election campaign with a bang.
Christie, the newly minted chairman of the Republican Governors Association who just won re-election by a landslide, planned to swing through the Sunshine State flexing his notoriously skilled fundraising muscle on behalf of one of the more endangered Republican governors this cycle.
All that is still true. Now, however, it comes with an extra dose of scandal.
Christie’s aides’ involvement in a scheme to create a traffic nightmare for a New Jersey town, apparently as political retribution against the Fort Lee mayor, seems to be morphing into a bigger and bigger problem by the day.
New Jersey Democrats are poised to drop new subpoenas targeting Christie’s former aides, and possibly those still in his employ. And federal officials are looking into whether federal grants after Superstorm Sandy were used inappropriately.
Yet after Christie’s marathon apology session Thursday, the Republican Party of Florida and the Scott campaign say the fundraisers in Naples, Fla., Friday and Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando Saturday are still on.
“Governor Christie has taken responsibility for the situation and we are looking forward to having him down in Florida,” Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Susan Hepworth said.
Bringing in the big bucks for candidates and the party committee is a key part of Christie’s job description as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
It’s also one that, at least for now, he can still do. It requires talking to the elite and the loyal, which, at least for the moment, is relatively safe territory.
“Here’s the thing about donors: They’re giving Chris Christie a little more time on this because he’s very, very popular in the donor class,” said Rick Wilson, a veteran Republican strategist based in Florida. “Realistically, that’s Christie’s base of support in the Republican Party.”
But Christie’s money tour comes at an awkward time for Scott.
His re-election will be a marquee battle for both parties this year, and already Scott is starting out behind.
The latest Quinnipiac poll shows his trailing former Republican governor-turned Democrat Charlie Crist by 7 percentage points.
Scott also spent part of December defending his chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, who had lied about earning a college degree for decades before joining Scott’s staff.
That and other scandals have resulted in four of Scott’s cabinet officials, including his Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, submitting their resignations.
“I think one of the things he [Scott] strives to do throughout the first three to four years of being in the public eye is put any kind of scandal behind him,” one Florida Republican strategist said. “That’s by design. One of the biggest issues with Scott has been that people don’t necessarily trust him.”
Florida Democrats, on the other hand, are gleefully pouncing on the opportunity to tie Christie to Scott.
“I think it’s heartwarming that one scandal-plagued governor will come and help bail out another scandal-plagued governor,” Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp said.
At the moment, there are few alternatives.
Leaving donors high and dry after they committed to giving thousands in exchange for sitting in a room with a GOP rising star isn’t much of an option.
“It’s already locked in,” Wilson noted. “These arrangements were probably made six weeks ago. They pre-sold the event based on his attendance. The money is basically in the bank.
“You can’t stiff your donors like that.”