SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
So, first New Jersey governor Chris Christie wins a landslide re-election victory, and then this week he won another election to be chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Now, it's mostly a ceremonial role but he will travel around the country to campaign for other Republicans in gubernatorial races in 2014. And as NPR's Brakkton Booker reports, many see this RGA chairmanship as groundwork for a potential White House run.
BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: It's good to be Chris Christie these days. The mediagenic New Jerseyite says 2016 is a long way off and his more immediate goal is getting other Republicans elected in the 36 gubernatorial races next year. Here he is talking to reporters this week at the annual RGA meeting in Arizona.
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: You know, my focus is going to be raising the funds that are necessary to be able to get the stories of these governors out to the citizens in their state, to then move forward from there to help them by getting on the ground and campaigning and amplifying those stories.
BOOKER: Christie at the moment is the envy of his party. He cruised to re-election by broadening his appeal to Democrats and Independents, blacks and Latinos, all groups the GOP as of late has had trouble connecting with. Christie's brand of inclusiveness is what Republicans hope will rub off on other gubernatorial candidates next year.
He told NBC, Republicans have to show up to places they aren't always comfortable.
CHRISTIE: I got 4.7 percent of the vote in Irvington in 2009. I went there and there were more people in the church where I did the town hall then voted for me in 2009. You go and you show up and you listen and you start to make your argument about your policies, and I think the results of the election show that that's the kind of engagement that we need as Republicans all across the country.
BOOKER: Christie's RGA duties will have him crisscrossing the country for photo ops, fundraisers and stump speeches, fielding speculation he's readying for a White House run. Haley Barbour is the former governor of Mississippi and used to chair the Republican Governors Association.
HALEY BARBOUR: This is the big year and it is a very good year to have somebody like Governor Christie who has got a real following in places where you can raise more money than you can in Yazoo City, Mississippi.
BOOKER: Barbour says Christie's focus will be on winning governor's races by contrasting Republican governors' records with that of the current president.
BARBOUR: We Republicans will be tickled for the public to look at the difference between Christie's record in divided government and Obama's record in divided government.
BOOKER: While Christie generally wins praise for his record, he's also known for his brashness, like his response last year to a reporter asking a question he deemed off-topic.
CHRISTIE: Are you stupid? On topic, on topic. Next question. Good. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you all very much and I'm sorry for the idiot over there.
BOOKER: Or, in 2011, when a New Jersey voter submitted a question to a TV station asking why it's fair for the governor to cut public school funding when he sends his kids to private school.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, you know what, first off it's none of your business. I don't ask you where you send your kids to school. Don't bother me about where I send mine.
BOOKER: Ari Fleischer is a media strategist and former press secretary for President George W. Bush. He says Christie needs to tone down the tough guy side of his persona.
ARI FLEISCHER: It won't play well if he's the guy whose finger is pointing and pounding you in the chest and is giving lectures on TV. It comes across as a little too tough, a little too me, and not enough country, not enough us.
BOOKER: Chris Christie wouldn't be the first governor to use the chairmanship to further a presidential campaign. Texas governor Rick Perry and last year's nominee, Mitt Romney, were the most recent to do so. But Fleischer says Christie will need more than the chairmanship to win the nomination in 2016.
FLEISCHER: Being a effective reformist conservative governor is an effective springboard, but in and of itself, it's not the be all and end all. It's not what propels people to victory.
BOOKER: So who's the last former chairman of the RGA to go all the way to the White House? Some fellow named Ronald Reagan. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Washington.
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