Christie Flies To Florida, Followed By Questions

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will visit Florida this weekend to raise money for Gov. Rick Scott, his first major fundraising trip as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The trip may answer some questions about how the scandal over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge will affect his path to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

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Embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie travels to Florida this weekend but the trip is hardly a vacation. Christie is the star attraction at a series of fundraising events across the state. It's Christie's first major trip as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. And as NPR's Joel Rose reports, it may be an important test of how the scandal over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge is affecting his national ambitions.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: It's been another tough week for Chris Christie. Late yesterday, 20 subpoenas were issued by the state assembly committee that's investing the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, including one for Christie's former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly. She wrote the infamous email that unleashed four days of major traffic problems in Fort Lee apparently as political retribution. Here's Democrat John Wisniewski announcing the subpoenas.

ASSEMBLYMAN JOHN WISNIEWSKI: What we're really looking at is the why. We know who sent out the request to close those lanes. We know who received it. We don't know why it was sent. We don't know why gave that person authorization to send it. We don't know why she felt empowered to send it.

ROSE: Governor Christie denies knowing about the plot to close lanes or the effort to cover it up afterward. There are now at least five investigations in the works, which may be why Christie's office hired lawyer Randy Mastro, a political veteran who worked for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. That hire came after the state assembly retained Reid Schar, the lawyer who successfully prosecuted former Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich for corruption.

Christie tiptoed around the scandal at his appearances this week, though he did seem to acknowledge it yesterday at an event about the state's recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: There's all kinds of challenges, as you know, that come every day out of nowhere to test you. And whatever tests that put in front of me, I will meet those tests because I'm doing it on your behalf.

(APPLAUSE)

CHRISTIE: So thank you all very much for being here.

ROSE: Christie has another tough job to do. As chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, he's tasked with raising $100 million to help governors around the country who are running for election in 2014. And Christie is the star attraction this weekend at a series of fundraising events for big time Republican donors in Florida.

FORD O'CONNELL: A lot of donors are really sort of taking a wait-and-see approach.

ROSE: Ford O'Connell is a Republican strategist. Technically Christie's weekend events are for the RGA and Florida Governor Rick Scott. But O'Connell says they're also an opportunity for Christie to reassure supporters ahead of his possible presidential run in 2016.

O'CONNELL: He needs to reach out to donors and let them know that, you know, everything's OK on his end because donors are a pretty risk adverse crowd. And if you cannot get the donors on your side, you won't be able to raise the money to be a frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

ROSE: At least one major donor, Home Depot founder Ken Langone, is sticking by Christie. Langone is hosting an event Sunday night in West Palm Beach. These private fundraisers are a friendly audience for Christie, says Charlie Cooks, a political analyst for National Journal.

CHARLIE COOK: This isn't a heavy lift for him. I mean, go down, do a brief mea culpa and then talk about raising money for electing and reelecting Republican governors around the country. It's really not about him. He's just the attraction. He's the bait to get people in a room and writing checks.

ROSE: But outside of that room Democrats will be looking to capitalize on the scandal. Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, plans to shadow the governor and hold public press conferences outside of Christie's private fundraisers in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Joel Rose, NPR News.

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