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No warm welcome for Chris Christie in Tennessee

Tennessee is usually very friendly to Republicans. But Chris Christie isn’t exactly being embraced by some state conservatives in advance of his big visit.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering at a town hall meeting, May 28, 2014.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering at a town hall meeting, May 28, 2014.

Tennessee is usually very friendly to Republicans. But Chris Christie isn’t exactly being embraced by some Volunteer State conservatives in advance of his big visit on Friday.

In the evening, the embattled New Jersey governor will keynote the Statesmen Dinner in Nashville, the largest annual gathering of Republicans in the state.

State Rep. Andy Holt took to his Facebook page calling the decision by the Tennessee Republican Party to invite Christie to headline the high-profile fundraiser an “absolutely terrible idea,” declaring the move would “cloud Tennessee’s conservative Republican Party with this questionable figure.” The conservative lawmaker added that he would not attend the event and that he’s “spoken with a number of other legislators who share my disapproval.”

And Ben Cunningham, the president of the Nashville Tea Party told msnbc the choice was “extremely unfortunate” and that the state’s establishment missed a “golden opportunity.”

Christie has been swamped in allegations for months that his office abused its power, primarily over the September George Washington Bridge lane closures, orchestrated by some of his staffers and allies, seemingly for political retribution. His administration is currently under state and federal investigation. The governor has denied any prior knowledge of the scheme.

Of course, Christie –who leads a largely Democratic state –has never been a favorite of his party’s right wing. There’s still anger over Christie’s notorious embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy, shortly before the 2012 presidential election. And many in the conservative base think Christie is too moderate on issues like gun control, climate change, and gay marriage. To them, he represents the cautious establishment –not the sort of true conservative the grassroots desires.

Brent Leatherwood, the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, defended the decision to  invite Christie to msnbc, saying the opposition to his appearance has been “minimal at best” and that the Garden State governor is “compelling and relevant,” especially to the state’s top donors and activists. Christie, he added, is expected to help rake in well over the $475,000 the dinner raised last year

Indeed, despite his popularity taking a big hit in the aftermath of so-called “Bridgegate,” Christie -- who heads the Republican Governors Association -- has proven he still has fundraising prowess. The RGA has highlighted its record fundraising hauls -- $23.5 million in the first quarter -- under Christie’s leadership.

Before the Statesmen Dinner on Friday, Christie will  make a joint appearance in the Memphis suburb of Germantown with Sen. Lamar Alexander, who’s up for re-election. And then he’ll stop at a barbeque restaurant to meet with voters in Nashville alongside Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Christie has headlined a slew of fundraising events this week. On Thursday, he was in New Mexico, making four stops with Gov. Susana Martinez, who’s also running for re-election. And on Wednesday, Christie hosted a lunch fundraiser for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in New Jersey.

Earlier this month, the RGA confirmed Christie will make additional stops in the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina to continue to fundraise for Branstad and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. The trips to the heavyweight states are sure to generate buzz that Christie – who once led the front of the pack in the nascent race to be the 2016 presidential nominee – is still seriously considering a bid.

Before Christie’s troubles began earlier this year, Martinez – the country’s first Hispanic woman elected governor (of a blue-leaning state nonetheless) – was seen as a potential vice presidential pick should Christie make a bid for the Oval Office. In New Mexico, Christie was asked if he could picture a future partnership with Martinez.

“Who knows, you never know what life is going to bring you,” said Christie.

The governor has said he doesn’t intend to make a decision on a White House bid until a year from now, but that he doesn’t think the lane closure scandal will make a difference to voters. “I think they love me in Iowa too,” he told ABC News last month.

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 April 3 to May 19 surrounding the Iowa GOP presidential caucus shows former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the lead with 16.6%.  Christie came in sixth behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee is dubbing Christie’s recent fundraising stops as the 2014 “Summer Scandal Tour” in a new web video. It criticizes Christie over the lane closure scheme, Martinez for alleged misuse of public resources and Branstad for alleged secret payments to state employees.