The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Christie brushes off ‘Bridgegate’ in speech to Romney donors

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PARK CITY, Utah – Whatever unease exists within the Republican Party establishment about his political strength, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tried to erase it here on Saturday.

Addressing an exclusive summit convened by Mitt Romney, Christie played a video of himself dancing with NBC late night host Jimmy Fallon and had the crowd of 300 business leaders and top GOP donors laughing loudly.

Then he sounded a call for party unity, urging donors to “keep their eye on the prize”: the 2014 midterm elections. And when one donor asked him about the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal that put his presidential aspirations in jeopardy, Christie said, “It’s over, it’s done with and I’m moving on.”

Christie was one of five potential presidential candidates to speak at the Park City summit hosted by Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. Unlike former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who addressed the group on Friday, Christie’s speech was closed to the press.

Attendees said Christie’s speech and question and answer session was well received. They said he did not directly reference the 2016 presidential race, instead focusing on his work in New Jersey and as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

“His was the first real pragmatic message towards the goal of winning in November, and I thought by keeping his focus on that and his role at the RGA rather than any potential presidential aspirations he was smart,” said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservatives Union.

Cardenas described Christie’s message as, “Unifying the party, spending less time whining about our differences and more time about winning so that we can govern and help America.”

On Friday night, Christie met privately with a small group of elite donors to discuss this fall’s gubernatorial contests. Christie was accompanied here by Bill Palatucci, the governor’s longtime political adviser and fundraiser.

In his speech Saturday morning, Christie ended his remarks by personally thanking Mitt and Ann Romney for standing by him during the “Bridgegate” scandal, saying that in times like that he learned who his “real friends” were, attendees said.

“I think the reception here today was exceptionally positive,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a Republican donor from Northern Virginia. “He was really funny and good today. And he was also very calm.”