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Chris Christie to visit Iowa, South Carolina

Chris Christie is no longer at the front of the pack in the nascent 2016 race, but that’s not preventing him from scheduling stops in early voting states.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie holds a Town Hall meeting in Fairfield, N.J.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie holds a Town Hall meeting in Fairfield, N.J.

Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may no longer be at the front of the pack in the nascent race to be the 2016 Republican presidential nominee, but that’s not preventing him from scheduling stops in the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina.

Christie -- who chairs the Republican Governors Association -- will fundraise on behalf of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, both of whom are up for re-election this fall, the RGA confirmed to msnbc. The trips to the heavyweight states are sure to generate buzz that Christie is seriously considering a bid for the Oval Office.

The RGA said the exact day and month of the fundraisers have not been nailed down. But according to The Des Moines Register, Christie will head to the Hawkeye State likely in July. And this month, Branstad will head to New Jersey for an event Christie is holding for him.

The trip to Iowa would be Christie’s first to the state since 2012, when the governor stumped on behalf of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

RealClearPolitics has reported the South Carolina fundraiser will take place sometime this spring.

Although the governor’s popularity has taken a hit in the aftermath of the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal, the RGA has highlighted its record fundraising hauls -- $23.5 million in the first quarter -- under Christie’s leadership.

Christie has said he doesn’t intend to make a decision on a White House bid until a year from now. His administration is still being probed by federal prosecutors and a state legislative panel over the September lane closures on the George Washington Bridge involving his aides and appointees, seemingly for political retribution. Christie has maintained he had no prior knowledge of the scheme and has since fired a top aide and cut ties with his former campaign manager.

Since Christie’s own internal investigation into the plot (conducted by a law firm and reportedly costing state taxpayers $1 million) found the governor was not involved in the scandal, the governor has been more outspoken – especially in regard to 2016. Last month he told ABC News that presidential primary voters still love him for his bold style.

“I think they love me in Iowa, too,” said Christie, adding, “I am who I am. At core, I am a passionate, loving, caring, direct, truth teller. And for some people, they love it.”

Not necessarily. According to a Des Moines Register Iowa poll from February, 57% of adults there disapproved of the way the governor handled the lane closure debacle with just 25% approving. Among Republicans, 47% disapproved and 34% approved.

The latest RealClearPolitics average of polling data from March 13 to April 15 surrounding the Iowa GOP presidential caucus shows former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with a 14.3% lead. Christie came in fourth behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. There have been no recent South Carolina polls with respect to 2016 since the lane closure plan unfolded.

What's yet to be seen is just how warmly Branstad and Haley embrace Christie when he visits their respective states. When Christie's troubles began to unravel earlier this year, several governors were seemingly wary of welcoming the Garden State politician with open arms -- at least in public.

When Christie traveled to Florida in January for his first out-of-state trip since the scandal broke, Gov. Rick Scott, who's up for re-election, did not arrange any joint public appearances with his fellow Republican. And when Christie went to Dallas and Fort Worth in February, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and GOP gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott were nowhere to be seen.

Christie was scheduled to fundraise on behalf of Scott in Florida on Wednesday, but the events were canceled due to flash flooding in the state.

The governor is clearly making an effort to repair his administration’s bruised and battered image. Earlier this week, Christie nominated John Degnan – a registered Democrat and former attorney general—to head the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the troubled agency that is tied to the lane closure scandal. 

Meanwhile, the state legislative committee and the federal grand jury investigations looking into the scheme have been ramping up. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the federal grand jury subpoenaed Phillip Kwon, the Port Authority's deputy general counsel who has close ties to the Christie Administration. And the state panel -- which at the beginning of year served more than two dozen document subpoenas to former and current members of Christie’s administration and campaign -- is now calling on some of those people to testify in person before the panel. That includes Christie’s former campaign staffer Matt Mowers, who now serves as the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party.