Christie: 'I haven't enjoyed the last 11 days'


by Paul Steinhauser


Posted on January 20, 2014 at 3:33 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 20 at 5:22 PM

(CNN) - Chris Christie told a large group of Republican donors that he's "being tested" by a couple of controversies that have the embattled New Jersey governor fighting to regain his political momentum.

Christie's comments came Sunday night, as he met with some of the GOP's top financial backers, a meeting that could be critical for Christie as he seriously considers a run for the White House in 2016. And according to one attendee at the private get-together at the home of Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, Christie was received warmly by the donors.

"I haven't enjoyed last 11 days; no sane person would. I'm being tested," Christie said, according to Ana Navarro, a CNN contributor and Republican strategist who attended the event. "Life presents challenges for all of us. You have to deal with them," added Christie, who brought up the controversies without prompting from his audience.

The event at the gated golf community in North Palm Beach, Florida, was Christie's last of the weekend following a series of fundraisers Saturday for GOP Gov. Rick Scott, who faces a tough re-election campaign this year in the Sunshine State. Christie was in Florida in his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, but Sunday's meet and greet was for Christie.

Christie's travel to Florida was his first political swing since he apologized at a news conference a week and a half ago for the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge for four days in September, which caused massive traffic jams on the New Jersey side of the nation's busiest bridge. Christie fired a senior aide and other associates who appear to be connected to the access lane closures have left their jobs. The lane closings appear to be political payback to the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who declined to endorse Christie's re-election last year.

Christie is also facing a federal investigation into whether he improperly used some Superstorm Sandy relief funds to produce New Jersey tourism TV commercials that starred him and his family. The story was first reported by CNN.

As Christie arrived in Florida on Saturday, another controversy broke: The Democratic Mayor of Hoboken claimed the Governor used Superstorm Sandy recovery funds as leverage over a development project stalled in the city across the Hudson River from New York. The multiple controversies are the biggest political test Christie has faced in his career.

Christie's Sunday events - a gathering of about 150 donors at Langone's home and a larger reception in front of around 750 people at a clubhouse at the development where Langone's home is located - came on friendly ground. According to Navarro, Christie made a good first impression with some of the donors, many of whom he had never met.

Navarro said that Christie pushed back on talk of 2016 and the next presidential race, with the governor saying, "My answer on 2016 is the same to everybody: Come see me next year," adding that, "This year I'm going to work on doing what's right for the people of New Jersey and I'm going to help get Republican governors get elected."

A day makes a difference

Navarro says there was a remarkable difference between Christie's appearance and demeanor between Saturday and Sunday. She said the Governor appeared rested and more upbeat on Sunday, and that he got a haircut.

"I was finally able to get some rest," Navarro said Christie told her on Sunday.

Langone, a longtime Christie friend and supporter, in 2011 led a group of establishment Republicans who urged the Governor to make a late entry into the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination. Christie declined to get into the race instead in the autumn 2011 backed Mitt Romney's bid for the White House, becoming one of the former Massachusetts' governor's most high profile surrogates on the campaign trial.

While never a favorite with many on the right, who make up much of the party's base and are very influential in the GOP presidential primaries and caucuses, some in the Republican donor class had already begun, in recent months, to strongly consider Christie as the most electable potential candidate in 2016 who could return the GOP to the White House.

But Navarro says the recent controversies are putting everything on hold, adding that "donors are pushing the pause button on Christie on 2016. Nobody's ready to get on board, but nobody's running away from Christie either. This buys time for the donors, for other potential candidates, and it gives Christie time to set the ship straight in New Jersey."