AUGUSTA, Maine — He promised in May that Maine would be seeing a lot of him this campaign cycle, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is making good on that pledge when he lands in Bangor on Tuesday to stump and fundraise for the re-election of Gov. Paul LePage.
Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has said Maine’s gubernatorial election — in which the incumbent LePage faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent businessman Eliot Cutler — is one of the RGA’s key races in 2014.
The group already has poured $550,000 into Maine, according to its most recently filed campaign finance report. In 2010, the group spent more than $1.8 million to elect LePage, and many observers expect RGA — and its Democratic counterpart — to smash through that total this year.
On Tuesday, Christie will land in Bangor early in the afternoon. He’ll attend fundraisers for the Maine Republican Party and LePage’s campaign at the Lucerne Inn in Dedham. But first he’ll join LePage for a tour of the recently expanded C&L Aerospace, located within throwing distance of Bangor International Airport.
The company, an airplane maintenance and repair shop, opened in Bangor in 2010 and has been growing ever since. It recently unveiled its $5 million expansion, which is expected to bring with it 40 to 50 more jobs, bringing the company total to roughly 170.
In a news release, LePage’s campaign said the governor’s support for a sales tax exemption for airplane parts helped businesses such as C&L thrive in Maine.
Christie remains a powerful Republican figure at the national level despite a scandal involving high-level members of his staff closing several lanes on the George Washington Bridge that connects Fort Lee, New Jersey, and New York City. The closures caused massive traffic jams for five days in 2013 and reportedly were acts of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie in his re-election that year.
Christie has said he had no knowledge of his staff’s involvement in the bridge closures.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed New Jersey residents evenly split over whether they approved of Christie’s job as governor. Christie enjoyed broad support among his state’s voters before the bridge scandal was first reported in the early months of this year.
Still, Christie remains a fundraising powerhouse — he’s off to campaign events in Alabama and Mississippi on Wednesday — and is a perennial favorite among Republican activists. He’s widely considered a potential GOP candidate for president in 2016, an idea Christie himself has not sought to quash.
Like LePage, he’s known for — and prides himself on — his direct, sometimes fiery statements and confrontations with political opponents. However, in May, during a campaign stop with LePage and Becky’s Diner in Portland, Christie said his similarities with Maine’s governor weren’t limited to the duo’s shared propensity for headline-grabbing confrontations.
“I’m a Republican governor in a blue state, as Gov. LePage is,” Christie said. “The fact is, we’re not supposed to ever win in places like this. And the fact that he’s won once … tells you that the people of Maine know who he is, that they trust him and they like him.”
LePage is not the only candidate in the gubernatorial contest to have sought support from other governors or national political luminaries this year.
Michaud recently had a fundraiser luncheon and rally with Govs. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Peter Shumlin of Vermont, who is chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. Michaud also was given a boost recently by a public appearance in Portland with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. congresswoman from Florida.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.