SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spent his first day as the new leader of the Republican Governors Association deflecting questions about his presidential ambitions and insisting he and the GOP heads gathered here are united in the their focus on winning critical midterm races next year.
“We have 36 races, we have 20 incumbent governors up in 2014 and I think any one of us in our individual capacity or as leaders of this organization on the executive committee start thinking about 2016 at our own peril. but worse at the peril of our colleagues,” Christie told reporters at a news conference Thursday.
He added, “2016 is a long way away.”
Given Christie’s star power and fundraising capacity, questions about future national campaigns have always come quickly. The newly re-elected governor feigned surprised and prompted some laughter when he was asked about governors and their presidential ambitions.
“I have to tell the truth, I'm stunned that we've gotten that question and ill-prepared to respond,” Christie said.
The Garden State governor is hardly the only RGA member who may be weighing a presidential bid in 2016. Other like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who did not attend the conference, are believed to be eyeing a run as well.
Jindal, who moved from head of the RGA to vice chairman alongside Christie, said that while 2016 speculation is a fun political sport, he and his colleagues cannot risk losing focus. “There'll be plenty of time for anybody that's interested in running for president, there's plenty of time. There's a lot of work we gotta do before then,” he said.
One of Christie’s first acts as the new chairman was a surprise for fellow governors. Christie invited former President George W. Bush to attend a private, governors only lunch to talk about his time as Texas governor and in the White House. Bush had no public appearance at the RGA but the Democrats’ counterpart organization quickly criticized the visit and said the governors have pursued the same Bush-era economic policies.
The Democratic Governors Association said in a statement, “For the sake of the working families in their states, we're hoping they kept the discussion to the weather."
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley who is up for re-election next year channeled the RGA’s anti-Washington attitude. Haley said at a news conference, “The hardest part of my job is Washington DC.” Haley expressed frustration at what she claimed has been interference from the federal government on matters like labor issues and voter id requirements. Her message to the administration and Congress, “We got this. Let us do our jobs.”
Indiana Governor Mike Pence knows both sides of that public office equation. Pence was elected as the Hoosier state’s governor in 2012 after serving in the US House of Representatives. Pence said, “Comparing my 12 years on Capitol Hill and 12 months since being elected, I'm more convinced that the cure for what ails the nation will come from state capitols rather than from nation's capitol.”
On Friday while most of the sitting governors head back home, the RGA holds a day of “candidate school” sessions for recruits expected to run for offices around the country.