Hat in hand, three governors—and a former governor—went to pay homage to Sheldon Adelson at the meeting this past weekend of the Republican Jewish Coalition—“under the watchful eyes of a few hundred powerful Jewish donors,” as the Washington Post so delicately put it. Since the vast majority of American Jews vote Democratic, and pretty much always have, the “Republican” Jewish Coalition consists of a panoply of hawks and neoconservatives, none more hawkish than Adelson, who once called for the United States to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran to scare its leadership. But because Adelson may spend more than $100 million in 2016, the're all competing in "the Sheldon Primary."
And it was Christie, as regular readers of Christie Watch know, who had the most to prove. Christie arrived in Las Vegas for the RJC meeting following the release of a report by a law firm that he hired, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, which the New Jersey governor touted as having cleared him of all wrongdoing except, perhaps, not knowing what his nefarious aides were up to.
Before heading west, Christie held his first news conference on Friday afternoon, the first time he’s met with the press since January 9, more than eleven weeks. (At the end of the news conference, Christie said, addressing the media: “I’d like to say I missed you. But I didn’t.”) From the tenor of that news conference, it’s clear that Christie believes that the path is now open for him to resume the national campaign that he’d intended to have started at the end of 2013, following his 60-percent-plus reelection win in November. Going forward, Christie said, the tangle of scandals surrounding Bridgegate and misuse of Sandy aid “will be a very small element, if it is any element at all.” And Christie added that outside of the New York-New Jersey region, where there is still intense interest in the scandal story, in the rest of the country no one cares. “There is significantly less interest around the country…than there is in this region,” he said. And in Iowa? “They love me in Iowa.”
Of course, the going is still tough for Christie, with the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finding that Christie’s personal rating is just 17 positive and 32 percent negative.
Before taking questions, Christie announced that one of the albatrosses hanging around his neck was gone. David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had resigned, Christie said. Since 2002, Christie and Samson have been close allies. That year, when Christie started as US attorney in New Jersey, Samson was New Jersey’s attorney general, and they bonded. Over the next decade, the two men increasingly drew closer, and in 2009 Samson ran Christie’s transition team, along with two other important players in Christie World: Jeffrey Chiesa, who’d been a law partner of Christie’s two decades ago at the firm Dughi & Hewit, and who’d served for years under Christie at the US attorney’s office; and Michele Brown, another assistant US attorney under Christie. Both Chiesa and Brown would get top jobs in the Christie administration, and Samson, of course, was named chairman of the Port Authority. In that post, he was able to work an inside/outside operation, overseeing billion-dollar PA contracts on projects that his firm, Wolff & Samson, represented. (Chiesa, who’d been a Wolff & Samson attorney earlier in his career, is back at the firm, along with Lori Grifa, a highly political lawyer who was Samson’s chief of staff when he was New Jersey attorney general in 2002. Grifa was a senior official in the Christie administration before going back to Wolff & Samson, where she’s been at the heart of the wheeling and dealing involving Wolff & Samson and the PA.)