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Chris Christie’s road trip will test his national GOP support

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., is still fending off allegations that his role in the George Washington Bridge scandal is greater than he’s acknowledged, but the governor isn’t letting that stop him from carrying out his duties as chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA).

Christie on Thursday kicks off a tour of the country to attend fundraisers and other events for the RGA. When he was officially elected to lead the organization last November, Christie’s high-profile within the party was considered an asset that could help him raise money in support of the 22 GOP governors up for re-election in 2014. It’s unclear, however, whether the scandal surrounding the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge will erode his support among Republican donors.

Christie starts his tour with events in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday. The state’s likely Republican gubernatorial candidate, however, will not be joining Christie, the Dallas Morning News reports. Instead, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott will be in Houston to talk about immigration. Now that Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, is retiring, Abbott is the Republican candidate most likely to face off against Democrat Wendy Davis in one of the nation’s most high-profile gubernatorial races. Perry, meanwhile -- who, like Christie, may have 2016 ambitions -- will also skip the RGA events, the Morning News reports.

On Tuesday, Christie heads to Chicago for multiple RGA events. He’ll also speak at the Economic Club of Chicago, where he’s expected to take questions in person for the first time in a month. After that, he’ll address the National Republican Senatorial Committee retreat in New York City. Then the governor attends the bipartisan National Governors Association meeting in Washington. In early March, Christie delivers a speech at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual World Forum in Georgia.

In between those trips, Christie is slated to deliver a budget address to the state, the Newark Star-Ledger notes. Late last month, the newspaper’s editorial board wrote that Christie should resign from his post as head of the RGA, given all that is on his plate in his home state.

“During those [RGA] trips, the business of running the state of New Jersey will take a back seat. And no doubt there will be many more trips when these are done,” the editorial board wrote. “This is great for Christie’s career, but terrible for New Jersey. Given that, he should step down.”

The board noted that there are two major investigations underway into the seemingly political motivations behind the September lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, and that several senior members of his staff will be compelled to testify before legislative committees. “That is time consuming and distracting,” the board wrote.

Before the paper’s editorial was released, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli -- who lost his gubernatorial bid in November -- was already calling for Christie to give up his leadership role at the RGA.

Since then, more allegations have come out -- an attorney for the former Port Authority official at the heart of the scandal says that “evidence exists” that Christie knew about the lane closures, contrary to what he has said. In an hour-long interview with  Trenton, N.J., radio station WKXW-FM earlier this week, Christie said the allegations were “just a game of gotcha” and emphatically denied knowing anything.

Whatever the case may be, polls show the scandal has taken a toll on Christie’s standing as a prospective presidential candidate. One recent Washington Post/ABC poll, for instance, showed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handily defeating Christie in a theoretical head-to-head matchup. The poll also showed that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., received more support than Christie among Republican voters.

Another recent poll, however, revealed what may be a silver lining in the scandal -- the Wall Street Journal/NBC survey showed that while Christie’s standing with Republican voters has dropped, his standing with “core Republicans” has actually improved. In October, just 32 percent of “core Republicans” had positive feelings about Christie, whose productive relationship with President Obama has left conservatives wary. But in the latest poll, as many as 42 percent said they had positive feelings about him.  

Christie will be able to bolster his standing with conservatives even further in early March, when he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in early March. Last year, the American Conservative Union declined to invite Christie to the event because many Republicans viewed the governor as insufficiently conservative.

While he continues to answer to investigators and deny public charges against him, Christie has found some allies in the GOP. Several prominent Republicans also came to Christie’s defense over the weekend, including Ryan, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. The latter two said he should not have to step down from his position as the head of the RGA.

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