Once upon a time, the Republican governors in the country were unified behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Not anymore.
The unity was fractured this week over Christie’s decision to withhold Republican Governors Association support from New York gubernatorial contender Rob Astorino.
Instead of backing Christie’s decision on the basis that Astorino is lagging in the polls behind incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo, four high-profile GOP governors are breaking with Christie to promote the New Yorker.
News of the remarkable split came this morning after Astorino, the county executive in suburban Westchester County, confronted Christie at the RGA summer meeting in Aspen, Colo. An Astorino aide confirmed that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — all possible Christie rivals for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 — have decided to help Astorino by either campaigning or fundraising or both.
Another possible Christie opponent in 2016, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, already held a fundraiser for Astorino last month in New York City. And, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has also pledged to help the man looking to make Cuomo a one-term governor in the Empire State.
“Glad to be with my buddy @RobAstorino in Aspen,” Perry, former head of the RGA, even tweeted, showing off a photo of him with Astorino.
Astorino was confident on Wednesday that once he met with Christie out West he would be able to convince the RGA chairman to support his candidacy. Today, an Astorino aide confirmed the two met last night “very briefly,” revealing the session did not go very well.
“The Aspen trip made it clear that governors from around the nation will be helping County Executive Astorino become Governor Astorino,” Astorino spokeswoman Jessica Proud said. “It also made it clear that RGA Chairman Chris Christie will not be among them. We can live with that and we will move on.”
Earlier in the week while campaigning in Connecticut for GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, Christie was asked whether he would hit the campaign trail for Astorino and he answered that he “will spend time in places where we have a chance to win, I said that right from the beginning.”
“We don’t pay for landslides and we don’t invest in lost causes,” Christie continued. “If the New York race becomes competitive, I’ll consider campaigning in the New York race, but right now, by the public polls, there’s a lot more competitive races like this one in Connecticut.”
It set off both Astorino and the New York GOP, with Astorino holding a news conference Tuesday saying if Christie is “unable to help a Republican candidate for governor, then maybe he should consider stepping down as chairman of the RGA. That’s his job,” according to the New York Daily News.
In the same news conference he even speculated Cuomo and Christie were scheming over the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal that has engulfed Christie’s administration in New Jersey.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Astorino stressed he did not believe he burned any bridges with Christie and instead was confident he could “change his mind.”
New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox is also in Aspen and did not shy away from his anger earlier this week when in a statement he said Christie’s comments indicated he “seems to have forgotten from whence he came,” noting Christie’s successful “underdog challenge” against Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009.
The situation is different. A Wall Street Journal/Marist/NBC Four New York poll from earlier this month put Cuomo up 35 points against Astorino. A Quinnipiac University poll from the July before Christie’s election in November 2009 had Christie up 12.
An aide to Cox said he has not yet met with Christie in Aspen, but he did meet with executive director Phil Cox (no relation) and described the meeting as “positive and productive.”
Christie’s office declined to comment.
Word of the internecine turmoil comes the same day as Christie’s hometown newspaper called out the New Jersey governor for being hypocritical in making campaign decisions based on polls. The Star-Ledger of Newark pointed out that Christie has no problem campaigning with New Hampshire’s Walt Havenstein despite his own steep deficit in the polls, considering that the Granite State hosts the first presidential primary in the nation.
“Gov. Chris Christie says he won’t campaign for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York because the cause is hopeless: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ahead by more than 30 points. But he will campaign in New Hampshire, over and over, where the Republican is also trailing by more than 30 points. What’s the reason? It may be that New Hampshire holds the nation’s first presidential primary. It may be that he doesn’t want to mess with Cuomo, who knows where the skeletons are buried,” the editorial reads.