Much like in his first term, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has left his state in the dead of winter and amid a storm of sorts to go to Florida. This time, however, the storm is a political one and Christie is traveling to the Sunshine State to fundraise for Republican candidates, but the scandals he left up north still pursues him.
Christie was in Orlando this weekend at a fundraiser for Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is currently running for reelection against former governor and newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist. According to Reuters, the luncheon event this weekend barred entry to journalists, relegating them to “the highway outside and out of view of the Country Club of Orlando.”
For journalists looking for something to do other than stand outside of this event, Bloomberg notes that the Democratic Party of Florida, with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in tow, set themselves up nearby to hold a press conference. The Democrats highlighted both the details of the scandal now known as “BridgeGate” and the newly surfacing allegations by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that the Christie administration used Hurricane Sandy relief funds as a bargaining chip to extort the mayor into approving a redevelopment project in the hands of Christie allies.
Wasserman-Schultz herself used the event to attack Governor Rick Scott, alleging that the restricted access to the press meant that “either Chris Christie doesn’t want to face the press, or Rick Scott doesn’t want to be seen publicly with him.”
Christie also attended other private events across the state hosted by, among others, Home Depot founder Kenneth Langone and sugar magnate Jose F. “Pepe” Fanjul. Reporters were barred for entering or eavesdropping on any conversation in those meetings as well.
Reports from inside seem to indicate that establishment Republicans were welcoming of and comfortable with Christie despite the scandal, as several attendees later answered media questions, and the Wall Street Journal reports that Christie received a standing ovation at the Orlando luncheon. Congressman Rep. John Mica (R-FL) told Bloomberg donors at the event were not concerned with the various scandals because “this isn’t Benghazi.”
At Langone’s private event, the host told Politico that only one person asked a question about the George Washington Bridge scandal. Langone said that Christie responded that he “did what I can do, with great apologies and embarrassment,” and did not see what further action he could have taken.
While Christie did his duty as the chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association for Governor Scott, an entirely new scandal began to unfold on the airwaves of MSNBC. On Saturday morning, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer claimed to MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki that Christie officials had, on two occasions, pressured her into approving a redevelopment project proposed by a corporation affiliated with the Christie administration and threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy relief funding if she did not. Among those officials: Kim Guadagno, currently the acting Governor of New Jersey while Christie campaigns in Florida.
Christie’s office responded to these new allegations by calling them “categorically false” and accusing MSNBC, in a scathing statement, of being “gleeful” to see his administration struggle. No reports indicate that anyone asked Christie about Dawn Zimmer’s allegations at the private events, though he did receive questions about the Fort Lee political retribution scandal.
Christie is expected to continue campaigning throughout the country for the rest of the year as midterm elections continue, particularly for Republican gubernatorial candidates. The New Jersey Legislature’s investigation into the George Washington Bridge closures is expected to being once again when all documents subpoenaed are received in mid-February.