Christie headed west to woo national support

Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson in 2012 in Jerusalem. He will attend the meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson in 2012 in Jerusalem. He will attend the meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. (LIOR MIZRAHI / Getty Images)
Posted: March 29, 2014

Gov. Christie, who said Thursday that he has not ruled out running for president, will travel this weekend to Las Vegas, where he will address a crowd - and one mega-donor in particular - that could wield significant influence in the 2016 race.

Christie, along with other Republican leaders, on Saturday will address the Republican Jewish Coalition, a Washington lobbying group with prominent campaign donors.

The biggest among them is billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate who with his wife, Miriam, spent at least $93 million on the 2012 elections, propping up the campaign of Newt Gingrich before throwing his support to Mitt Romney.

The investments, though enormous, largely didn't pay off for Adelson, who is now said to be looking to back a Republican with mainstream appeal who could win in 2016.

The Washington Post reported this week that Adelson would meet one-on-one with potential candidates invited to the coalition's three-day spring meeting, which started Thursday at Adelson's hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.

Besides Christie, other Republicans invited include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Asked whether Christie would meet with Adelson, Bill Palatucci, a close friend and adviser to Christie, said he "wouldn't be surprised."

"When you're going to somebody's home, you typically go by to say hi," said Palatucci, who will travel with Christie.

The governor's appearance at the meeting comes on the heels of Thursday's release of an internal review he commissioned that says he is clear of any wrongdoing in the George Washington Bridge controversy.

The governor is still facing investigations from state lawmakers and federal prosecutors. According to the Post, an Adelson friend said the billionaire has been concerned about the bridge scandal's impact on Christie.

In a nationally televised interview Thursday night with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Christie said the controversy had not caused him to rule out a presidential bid.

"Listen, I haven't made a decision about 2016, and I don't intend to make a decision about 2016 until a year from now, but it won't have anything to do with what's happened the past 10 weeks," Christie said.

"What's happened the past 10 weeks, I think, ultimately will make me a better leader," he said, "whether it's as governor of New Jersey or in any other job that I might take in the public or private sector."

Asked how his sometimes-brash style would fare in Iowa, Christie said, "They love me in Iowa, too."

Christie will likely be well received by the coalition, said Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary to President George W. Bush who serves on the coalition's board.

"It's a crowd that is really not focused on Bridgegate," but rather on foreign policy and support for Israel, Fleischer said.

Appearing before the coalition - which meets three times a year - is a "well-worn path to the White House," Fleischer said.

As for Adelson, "his support can be extraordinarily significant," Fleischer said. "It won't surprise me if everybody who's already here has asked for a one-on-one meeting with Sheldon."

Adelson will likely want to talk to potential candidates about Iran and Israel, Fleischer said.

The casino CEO is a fierce opponent of Internet gambling, which became legal last year in New Jersey.

Christie may "have to finesse that," said Jon Ralston, a longtime Nevada journalist and political analyst. "I don't think [Adelson] necessarily considers it a fatal issue, but I think he will do everything he can to change Christie's mind."

While it's too early in the cycle for Adelson to commit to a candidate, "I think he thinks a governor is the best person to win the presidency," Ralston said. "He understands how tainted anyone from Washington is."

Christie has appeared before the coalition before. During a talk before the group in 2011, he attacked Obama as a failed leader. The coalition helped pay for a trip the governor took to Israel in 2012.

Christie has supporters on the coalition's board, including Paul Singer, a New York hedge-fund manager.

Adelson also has supported Christie. While running for reelection last year, Christie attended a fund-raiser arranged by Adelson in Las Vegas.

Adelson and his wife each gave Christie's 2013 campaign $3,800, the maximum allowed under New Jersey law.

After the 2012 elections, Adelson told the Wall Street Journal that he was prepared to double his donations.

"I'll spend that much and more," he said. "Let's cut any ambiguity."


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990 @maddiehanna

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