Chris Christie + Bill Clinton = Perfect together?

June 14, 2013

This week's Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington is shaping up as a who's who of potential 2016 GOP White House hopefuls. But you won't find New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) there.

That's because the governor will be in Chicago Friday to appear at a very different gathering hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative. It's yet another decision that is great for Christie in 2013 but could sting him down the road.

Faced with reelection this year in a deep blue state, Christie has crafted a carefully calibrated bipartisan problem-solver image aimed at winning over the moderate voters he needs to secure a second term. It's worked like a charm so far, with polls showing the Garden State Republican lapping his Democratic opponent.

While Christie was reportedly invited to speak at the D.C. confab hosted by a conservative Christian group, his decision to instead accept the invitation to join the 42nd president for a "Conversation on Leadership" is consistent with the governor's effort to boost his bipartisan credentials.

"CGI presented a platform for Gov. Christie to discuss post Sandy economic recovery, rebuilding and the kind of bipartisan problem solving that was needed to help New Jersey after its greatest natural disaster," said Christie spokesman Colin Reed.

But while Christie is appearing with Clinton, former governor Jeb Bush (R) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will be addressing the conservative meeting in Washington. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appeared at the Faith and Freedom event Thursday.

And Christie's decision isn't going unnoticed by the political right. It comes only months after his welcoming of President Obama to review storm damage just before the 2012 election spurred some conservative grumbling. The president's return trip lo New Jersey last month to tour recovery efforts renewed the debate about Christie's stock among the conservatives that play a crucial role in the all-important early presidential nominating contests.

"On many issues, Gov. Christie is a solid conservative, but burnishing Democrat credentials may be problematic in a GOP primary if he decides to run for President," said Greg Mueller, a conservative GOP strategist.

Veteran Republican strategist Ed Rogers said Christie's decision to attend Clinton's conference won't likely impact his 2016 standing very much. But, Rogers added, Christie "needs to tamp down his reelection as tightly as possible. Nothing about attending the [Faith and Freedom Conference] contributes to that. Attending the Clinton conference probably does."

As we've written, Christie's near-term political gain could turn into long-term pain if he runs for president in 2016. But without a 2013 win, it's hard to see Christie being mentioned in the 2016 conversation as he is right now. So in a way, he's doing what he needs to do to keep himself in the game, even if it may not seem to be the case.

That said, there is still the risk of overreach in the opposite direction. Every time the governor appears friendly with Obama or spends time with Clinton, he's handing potential GOP opponents visual and audible fodder for attacks down the road.

Politics is often a delicate balancing act. And perhaps no other major politician needs to keep that in mind more right now than Christie.

Fixbits:

Obama has authorized direct U.S. military support to the Syrian rebels, after concluding the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed a bill to expand background checks on gun purchases.

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) moved toward running for governor.

Lawmakers are planning a bill that would limit the access federal contractors have to sensitive information.

The issue of gay marriage wasn't mentioned much at the Faith and Freedom Conference Thursday.

Six months after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a Web site to urge House GOP leadership to hold a vote on expanded background checks.

Democrats routed Republicans 22-0 in Thursday's congressional baseball game.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) says he would "bet the farm" former governor Brian Schweitzer (D) will run for the Senate.

Must-reads:

"Document: Major resources needed for Obama Africa trip" -- Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura, Washington Post

"Obama under pressure on gay rights" -- Peter Wallsten, Washington Post

"Hillary Clinton speech embraces Obama priorities, hints at potential agenda for 2016" -- Philip Rucker, Washington Post

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · June 13, 2013