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Illinois GOP gov hopefuls keeping their distance from Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

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Updated: March 9, 2014 6:25AM



WASHINGTON — Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, struggling to get ahead of the bridge scandal, hits Chicago on Tuesday for Republican Governors Association fundraisers, but the four Republicans running for Illinois governor did not have plans to attend.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee is deploying former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to helm a Chicago press conference Tuesday where he will highlight Christie’s George Washington Bridge controversy as Democrats are dogging Christie as he is starting to travel across the country in his new role as RGA chair, where his main job is to raise money to elect Republican governors in 2014.

I asked spokesmen for the four Illinois rivals in the March GOP governor’s primary on Thursday whether they would attend any of the fundraising events Christie will headline in Chicago on Tuesday.

Wes Bleed, a spokesman for state Sen. Kirk Dillard R-Hinsdale said, “no, we won’t be attending any Christie events.”

Brian Sterling, a spokesman for Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, said “he knows nothing about the event and is not involved in any way.”

Dan Egler, a spokesman for state Sen. Bill Brady R-Bloomington, said “right now, no.”

Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for investor Bruce Rauner — and a former RGA spokesman — told me, “We don’t have his schedule completely finalized for next week yet.”

Christie’s Chicago schedule starts with a luncheon at the The Economic Club of Chicago where he takes part in a “conversation” with Motorola Solutions CEO and Board Chairman Greg Brown, 12:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, 301 E. North Water.

Egler said Brady was invited by a member of The Economic Club to go to that Christie event, but was not sure if he could make it since he has to be in Springfield later in the day for the Sangamon County Lincoln Day Dinner.

Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Illinois Republican Party Chairman Jack Dorgan, said Dorgan will attend the Economic Club event, and that’s “the only one I know he’s attending. He’s going to be attending the Sangamon County Lincoln Day that evening, so he’s not doing any other RGA stuff that might interfere with that.”

Christie has Tuesday afternoon events with donors or prospects in the afternoon and an RGA fundraising dinner in the evening.

The Christie Chicago fundraisers are not open to press, but his event at The Economic Club of Chicago is open to media coverage — and I’m told a crowd of press from New Jersey and Washington is expected to attend.

GOP governors elected Christie to the post last November when he seemed to show powerhouse fundraising potential for the 2014 election cycle — with the payoff for Christie a year of national travel that could pave the way for a 2016 presidential bid.

Now the DNC is trying to make sure that the bridge scandal follows Christie as he steps up his national RGA travel. In the political business it’s called “bracketing,” that is, piggybacking on an already scheduled event, in this case to hound the New Jersey governor and zap Republicans.

Saving Gov. Pat Quinn is a priority for the Democratic Governors Association. The RGA sees Quinn as very vulnerable. The DNC has been working with the DGA to target Christie to dilute his ability to lead the RGA.

On a recent Christie Florida RGA fundraising swing, DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., held press conferences digging at Christie in Florida, and last Thursday Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa smashed Christie in Dallas.

The bridge scandal for now has shelved all talk of Christie making a White House run with ongoing probes addressing the question of what Christie knew when about lane closures on the bridge spanning New Jersey and New York.

So far, Republicans have been restrained when asked if Christie should step down as RGA chair. “I don’t think he should step down,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former RGA chair, told CNN’s “State of the Union” host Candy Crowley last Sunday. “I think he should stay there.”

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