DES MOINES, Iowa – More than a dozen likely 2016 Republicans will be up for inspection in Waukee, Iowa, this weekend at the early voting state’s 15th annual Faith and Freedom Coalition Spring Kick-Off.
Noticeably absent? New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who will be missing his second big GOP event in less than a month after he wasn't invited to the National Rifle Association's annual convention earlier in April.
“The only one who didn’t show up and didn’t seem to have any interest is Chris Christie,” Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition President Steve Scheffler told msnbc ahead of the event. “Even if he couldn’t be there, they had an opportunity to have a surrogate and or video and they chose not to do that.”
Christie spokesman Samantha Smith said the governor had a scheduling conflict and that the governor's PAC state director, Phil Valenziano, is attending the event. She wouldn't elaborate on the governor's absence on the record.
“The voicemail that they left with me did not say anything about a scheduling conflict,” Scheffler said, though he declined to say what the voicemail had said.
Nine conservatives – Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz; Govs. Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker; former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina – will speak to more than 1,000 assembled conservative caucus-goers. Four others -- former Gov. Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Dr. Ben Carson -- will each send a surrogate speaker or a video message because of scheduling conflicts, Scheffler said.
Asked about former New York Gov. George Pataki, Scheffler said his determination to avoid social issues doesn't sit well with Iowa conservatives. And Ohio Gov. John Kasich, according to Scheffler, was invited late in the process and expressed interest in participating in a later event. Former Ambassador John Bolton, another potential Republican candidate, wasn't initially considered, but perhaps should have been, Scheffler said.
Christie seems unlikely to abandon Iowa in his likely presidential bid, as Sen. John McCain did in 2000. In January, he told ABC News he "certainly" thought he could win the state in 2016 and NJ.com reported in the same month that the governor was promising donors that he'd win Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.
To that end, the governor has spent quite a bit of time in Iowa: According to the website p2016.org, which tracks political visits ahead of 2016, Christie has visited eight times in the last two years, for a total of eight days in the state – more than Bush, Rubio, and Paul, for example -- and he's recently added to his staff on the ground here, bringing on heavy-hitters from the state in hopes of building a strong local team.
Still, Christie hasn't been scoring well against his fellow Republicans in Iowa polls over the last few months. In recent weeks, the governor seems to be focusing more of his time in New Hampshire, where his personal brand of compromise-isn’t-a-dirty-word conservatism might find more fertile ground. He's visited that state eight times in the last two years, according to p2016.org, for a total of nine days.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition event on Saturday evening is “a good way to try and compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges and solidify their thoughts of which they might want to go with," Scheffler said, adding that he doubted anyone will be making up their minds this weekend, but it might help people decide on a shortlist.