New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's cross-country midterm campaign tour continued this week, but gubernatorial races weren't the only thing on the mind of the Republican Governors Association chairman.
During his third trip to the Granite State this year, Christie stumped for GOP Senate nominee Scott Brown. In North Carolina, which doesn't even have a governor's election on the ballot this year, Christie campaigned for Senate hopeful Thom Tillis.
That wasn't the first time this year that Christie traveled to a state without a gubernatorial election. In August, he attended fundraisers in Mississippi for the RGA and Gov. Phil Bryant, who isn't up for reelection in 2015. And he's stopped in Utah twice over the past six months for RGA fundraisers, even though the state is reliably Republican and isn't hosting any competitive campaigns his cycle.
Christie's wide-ranging activity this year highlights the perks of helming one of the most powerful and well-funded organizations in politics as a potential White House contender. He has taken full advantage of the opportunity to travel to all corners of the country, making connections with voters and donors while gaining possible allies in high office, whether in statehouses or the U.S. Capitol.
Christie insists that he is completely focused on the elections at hand this fall—and he's undoubtedly provided a great deal of help to Republicans on the ballot in 2014. The RGA has raised $75 million since he took over as chairman in November 2013, and candidates' campaign coffers have benefited from Christie's visits. But that doesn't mean he can't tend to his own political ambitions along the way, too.
At a press conference in Trenton on Thursday, Christie said his recent campaign stops will factor into his decision regarding the 2016 presidential race.
"That's all stuff for me to consider, to take into account," he said. "It affects it in the sense that it gives me a window into ... what that would be like. And it gives my family a window into what that would be like. And so that will all wind up, I believe, affecting the decision that we make come the beginning of next year."
While Christie has aided several swing-state Senate candidates this cycle, the lion's share of his electoral efforts have focused on helping gubernatorial candidates. Next week, he will travel to Pennsylvania for the fourth time, Connecticut for the third time, and Michigan for the second time to boost the states' Republican gubernatorial candidates. The following week, he is set to make his first visits to Ohio and Wisconsin—two important battleground states with GOP governors vying for second terms.
Two other states with highly competitive gubernatorial contests, Florida and Illinois, have both seen Christie three times this year. Christie has also visited a handful of states further south that don't have particularly close races on the November docket, like Alabama, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, a possible effort to reach out to conservative Republicans who typically aren't as inclined to support him. He's also traveled through the early presidential-voting states of Iowa and South Carolina. By the end of September, Christie will have visited 30 states and the District of Columbia while serving as chairman of the RGA.
"The most important thing that the Republican Party can do this fall to help lay the foundation for success in 2016 is to elect more Republican governors," said Phil Musser, a GOP political strategist and former RGA executive director. "They have the ability to set the agenda. "¦ They have the ability to build, fund, and organize a state party and grassroots operations. And so, on the margins, if you really care about 2016 and that's what you're thinking about now, the most important thing you can do right now is help elect more Republican governors in 2014."
Few, if any, Republican presidential prospects have been as active in the midterms as Christie. Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, for instance, have made their fair share of endorsements, stump speeches, and fundraiser appearances this cycle, and have given money to GOP candidates and state parties through their leadership PACs. Christie, however, has the benefit of working through an established organization, with a built-in network of supporters and the ability to accept unlimited contributions.
Christie is far from the first politician to use the RGA as a tool to help build a national profile. Then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney chaired the committee in 2006 before launching his first White House bid, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry was at the helm in 2011 prior to his presidential run.
Until Christie makes his decision about the next White House race, expect the governor to build as many chits as possible—even if it doesn't directly involve his role as RGA chairman.
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Adam Wollner is an analyst for National Journal Hotline. Previously, he covered politics as an intern for NPR and the Center for Public Integrity. A native Wisconsinite, Wollner graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 with a bachelor degree in journalism and political science.