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Christie Hammers Home Message, Nails Down Support Of Home Depot Cofounder

By Maddie Hanna, The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

TRENTON, N.J. — As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie nears a decision on whether to run for president, he faces a likely crowded Republican primary field —  and competition for wealthy donors.

One billionaire, however, has made his allegiance to Christie clear.

“The American people are ready for the truth. I think one thing the governor demonstrates loud and clear is candor,” Ken Langone, a cofounder of Home Depot, said in a recent interview. “He has no trouble standing by his decisions and explaining why he made those decisions.”

The governor, who is scheduled to join other potential Republican presidential candidates this weekend in Iowa, has said his 2016 decision won’t be rushed by rivals.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — who are perceived as competing with Christie for donors — have signaled possible bids, setting off speculation as to whether the New Jersey governor could raise enough money.

Langone — who said last week that he would host a dinner for Christie “sometime toward the end of the month” — has dismissed that idea.

“I am going to work my ass off to make sure Chris Christie never needs money,” he said in a Politico story last week.

Wealthy political backers like Langone have gained “undue and disproportionate influence on our elections,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit that advocates campaign-finance reform. “They become extremely important to presidential candidates.”

But while Langone may be able to convene donors on Christie’s behalf, “it’s not like one person can go out and put his or her finger on everybody,” former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said.

“People who have the capacity to give away a thousand dollars or more, in many cases a lot more, make up their own minds,” said Barbour, who met Langone in 1993 when Langone was finance chairman for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Still, Barbour said, Langone is “clearly an asset. And a big one.”

Langone, a former New York Stock Exchange director who runs a New York investment bank, Invemed Associates, has long been a Christie backer. In 2011, he convened a group of supporters — among them former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger — to urge Christie to run for president.

When Christie opted not to enter the 2012 race, Langone threw his support to Romney.

But he remained enthusiastic about Christie. Days after the George Washington Bridge scandal broke last January, Langone hosted the governor and donors at his house in Palm Beach, Fla.

A prolific donor to political and philanthropic causes, Langone said his fund-raising for national campaigns ramped up in 1988, when he was asked to help raise money in New York for the campaign of President George H.W. Bush.

“I love America, and I want America to be great,” he said of his fund-raising.

He said he doesn’t ask politicians who receive his donations to support his business interests: “I can take care of myself. I don’t need the government.”

Asked about donations he’s made over the years to a political action committee created by Home Depot’s board of directors — $80,000, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics — Langone said the committee was “designed to address onerous regulations that stifle us from growing and hiring people.”

Langone acknowledges efforts to influence — and reward — politicians on other causes. After New York Sen. Chuck Schumer helped secure federal money for New York University Langone Medical Center after Hurricane Sandy, Langone raised money for the Democratic lawmaker.

“Here was an opportunity for us to support somebody who did for his constituents what he was elected to do,” Langone said. “There’s nothing in that for me personally.”

The leader of a group of Republicans who endorsed Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election, Langone said he backs Cuomo largely because the governor supports charter schools.

“I have no trouble aggressively soliciting politicians to help us fix the public school system, which is broken in America right now,” Langone said.

Christie has supported school-choice policies. In his “State of the State” address last week, he again advocated for a bill to enable certain low-income children to attend nonpublic or out-of-district schools, a measure that has failed to advance in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The governor has been quieter lately on another topic where Langone is vocal: immigration reform.

Describing a scenario with children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants, Langone said, “What do you do, send the parents back and say, put the kids in a foster home? … You’ve got to figure out a way to deal with the reality.”

Langone has also made his views known on hydraulic fracturing, which he favors; entitlement programs, which he says need to be reformed (“It’s absolutely absurd for a man of my means to get a $2,400 check from the government every month”); and the debate over income inequality.

Regarding the inequality debate, Langone told Politico last year: “If you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

The remarks drew criticism, and Langone issued a statement: “If my choice of words was inappropriate — and they well may have been that — I extend my profound apologies to anyone and everyone who I may have offended.”

Langone said he doesn’t expect Christie to share his views. “This ideological litmus test is a nightmare,” he said.

But he said Christie “has the capacity to listen and reflect on what he hears and adjust his thinking. Now, all you can do is hope you get a day in court with somebody.”

Langone said the dinner he will host for Christie this month would not be a fund-raiser: “He’s running for nothing. How can I raise money for him?”

Instead, “I want people to meet him, get to know him, be able to probe his mind, how he feels about things,” Langone said.

Stan Hubbard, a billionaire Minnesota broadcast executive who attended Langone’s event for Christie in Florida last year, described Langone as “a very persuasive person” who “gets people together by picking up the phone and calling his friends.”

Hubbard, who met Langone 20 years ago through a business deal, said he and Langone have stayed in touch, and “we mention Christie from time to time.”

“We mention Gov. (Scott) Walker. We mention Jeb Bush. He hasn’t kept in touch just about Chris Christie,” Hubbard said.

Langone “really believes” in Christie,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Photo: Peter Stevens via Flickr

Christie Touts GOP’s Success In Gubernatorial Races

By Maddie Hanna, The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

TRENTON, N.J. — As Republican governors across the country claimed wins Tuesday, so did New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The national face of the effort to elect Republican governors, Christie helped raise $106 million and visited at least 35 states as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The role allowed him to tout his party’s successes — victories in blue states, swing states, and a net gain of two governor’s seats — during a blitz of morning-show appearances Wednesday.

He also fielded questions about his political ambitions, saying on NBC’s Today that he had not decided on a 2016 presidential bid, but he and his wife, Mary Pat, would “have to start talking about that in earnest.”

Christie was “instrumental” in growing the ranks of Republican governors from 29 to 31, Phil Cox, executive director of the RGA, said in a briefing Wednesday.

Citing Christie’s record fundraising haul, which enabled the RGA to spend $130 million on the elections, and “tireless” campaigning, Cox said, “he certainly has raised the bar.”

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said that while he had raised significant money as RGA chairman in 2010, Christie “blew by me like I was Maybellene at the top of the hill,” referring to a Chuck Berry song.

Barbour said 2014 was challenging, given that Christie had to defend 22 of the 29 seats held by Republican governors.

“It is a blessing to the RGA that Christie and his team were able to raise so much,” Barbour said.

Not all were as generous in their assessment of Christie’s impact. “All these races at the end of the day are individual races,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican strategist.

Wilson said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — a potential 2016 rival of Christie’s, who at one point suggested he needed more money from the RGA — “won because he busted his tail on the ground. (Florida Gov.) Rick Scott won because he spent $100 million, a lot of which he raised outside of the RGA track.”

The RGA said it poured $19 million, its largest-ever expenditure in a state race, into Scott’s tight victory over Democrat Charlie Crist in Florida, where Christie made seven trips to campaign for Scott.

Christie “deserves some credit for that,” Wilson said. But “when it comes time for voters to make decisions in 2016, they’re probably not going to say, ‘How did he do as RGA chairman?’

Christie may benefit in other ways from the election wins, analysts said.

“The big plus for Christie is that he built up chits with new GOP governors whose states will have loads of delegates to the 2016 GOP convention,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Governors matter in nomination battles as long as the candidate they endorse is a real contender.”

Sabato added that Christie’s presidential chances are still hindered by his image as a moderate, “and his new friends in statehouses can’t help him much there.”

States won by Republicans where the RGA spent heavily included Florida, Michigan ($14 million), Massachusetts ($11 million), Illinois ($9 million) and Wisconsin ($8 million). Wilson said Walker’s win in Wisconsin may help quell “the perception, true or not, that (Christie) was playing politics with one of his 2016 rivals.”

Republicans won competitive races in Kansas and Georgia, where the RGA spent $5 million each. And in the presidential swing state of Ohio, where the RGA spent $4 million, Republican Gov. John Kasich won re-election in a landslide.

Maryland had elected only one Republican since the 1970s, but the party’s candidate, Larry Hogan, pulled off a win Tuesday.

In his acceptance speech Tuesday, Hogan thanked “Governor Christie for bringing the cavalry from New Jersey.” Christie decided to put the RGA in debt to spend $1.5 million on Hogan’s race, Cox said.

Not every race that received substantial RGA resources paid off: In Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy managed a win, despite the RGA spending $7 million on Republican Tom Foley’s behalf. Christie made six trips to Connecticut for Foley — exceeded only by his trips to Illinois, Florida and Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Corbett’s losing campaign was fueled by $7 million from the RGA.

Cox said Democrats and labor unions also spent big in the elections.

In the early presidential nominating state of New Hampshire, which Christie visited five times, Republican Walt Havenstein lost to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Some political observers saw Christie’s early presence in the state, where he endorsed Havenstein in a contested Republican primary in June, as geared more toward laying groundwork for a 2016 race than a victory for Havenstein, who trailed Hassan in polls.

But more recently, the race narrowed. By keeping Havenstein competitive, Christie helped Republicans make gains in the state legislature, said Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire Republican party chair.

“People will notice that,” Cullen said.

One state where the sitting governor didn’t need Christie’s help down the stretch was Iowa, where Gov. Terry Branstad cruised to an easy re-election.

Yet Christie visited Iowa, which hosts the first presidential caucus, four times in recent months.

“That was above what the RGA chairman normally would do and can’t be seen as a perfunctory effort,” said David Oman, who served as Iowa co-chair of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Oman, a former chief of staff to Branstad, said he expected Branstad to stay neutral in the 2016 race, as he has in the past. But Branstad “may have passed along a little advice to his colleague,” he said.

In addition to meeting party leaders and donors in key presidential states, Christie’s RGA travel also boosted a possible presidential bid by broadening his knowledge base, Barbour said.

“What works in New Jersey may not work in New Mexico,” he said. “You get an issue exposure and perspective that you would not have just by being governor of your home state.”

Photo: Peter Stevens via Flickr