Christie plunges back into building 2016 coalition with appearance on 'Tonight'

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Christie plunges back into building 2016 coalition with appearance on 'Tonight'
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talks with reporters at the National Governors Association convention Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 04: (L-R) Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Anthony Mackie are sighted on the set of 'Pain And Gain' on April 4, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Uri Schanker/Getty Images)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, walks with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-West Deptford, N.J., as they arrive at an event Monday, July 14, 2014, in Paulsboro, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 04: Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson are sighted on the set of 'Pain And Gain' on April 4, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Uri Schanker/Getty Images)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, talks with reporters at the National Governors Association convention Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie third right at podium, addresses a gathering at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal Wharf construction project Monday, July 14, 2014, in Paulsboro, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, walks with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-West Deptford, N.J., as they arrive at an event Monday, July 14, 2014, in Paulsboro, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, leaves a meeting at the National Governors Association convention Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 04: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attends the 2014 Father Of The Year Awards at New York Hilton on June 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 04: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attends the 2014 Father Of The Year Awards at New York Hilton on June 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie attends a news briefing during the Republican Governors Association's quarterly meeting on May 21, 2014 in New York City. Appearing with Christie was South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. As Christie continues to move towards a potential 2016 presidential campaign, the ongoing bridge scandal and a New Jersey budget deficit threaten to undermine any campaign if he were to join the race. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie(L) and New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo at the dedication of the National September 11th Memorial Museum in New York, on May 15, 2014. US President Barack Obama inaugurated the museum commemorating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda suicide attackers which killed nearly 2,800 people. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attends the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce 77th annual dinner in Washington on April 22, 2014. Christie is a potential Republican candidate for the 2016 presidential election. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 29: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on March 29, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Republican Jewish Coalition began its annual meeting wtih potential Republican presidential candidates in attendence, along with Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie third right at podium, addresses a gathering at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal Wharf construction project Monday, July 14, 2014, in Paulsboro, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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By STEVE PEOPLES and ERIK SCHELZIG

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Chris Christie is plunging into what amounts to a cross-country revival tour, looking to recover from a clumsy political scandal and reclaim his place as a promising Republican presidential prospect.

In one recent week, it was on-the-ground politics in Tennessee and New Mexico. This week, after a campaign stop in Pennsylvania, the New Jersey governor returns to the late night comedy circuit with an appearance on NBC's "Tonight Show." Then he'll stop by Mitt Romney's Utah summit, a private event for donors and GOP establishment leaders, and the week after that he heads to Washington to court Christian conservatives at a national gathering of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

All the while, he's raising a record-setting amount of money for other Republicans, and bolstering his political network in all the right places - Iowa and New Hampshire, in particular.

"As the president's record continues to get worse, as the Democratic Party brand continues to get worse across the country, this momentum's going to build," Christie said recently. "I've been looking forward to this year for quite some time."

Despite his optimism, this isn't where Christie expected to be at this point on the road to 2016. His stock plummeted early this year after it was discovered that members of his staff and political allies intentionally snarled traffic from New Jersey into Manhattan, apparently to punish a political rival.

On Monday, Christie's chief of staff testified about the political-retribution plot before a state legislative committee, another reminder of the ongoing challenges the governor faces while intensifying his national outreach. Recent polls suggest that Christie's once-impressive coalition of supporters - including independents, women, Hispanics and even some Democrats - has more or less disappeared nationally.

"He's a great man, but I'm not sure he can overcome it," said Susan Brubaker, a Tennessee Republican who attended Christie's recent appearance there.

Christie's aides note the first votes of the 2016 campaign won't be cast for more than a year. They argue he's already weathered the worst of a scandal that triggered widespread concern among key members of the Republican Party, including major donors and leaders eager for the party to regain the White House.

In the meantime, Christie is charging forward with renewed vigor and raising money at a breakneck pace.

Like other prospects, he hasn't declared he's running, though he did acknowledge Monday that it's "something that I'm thinking about." He said he wouldn't make up his mind until early 2015.

Monday evening, Christie was headlining a fundraiser for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, an appearance tied to Christie's role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, a one-year position he assumed last November. The RGA had nearly $70 million cash on hand and confirmed it had raised $50 million through the end of last week under Christie's leadership, a six-month record for the group and substantially more than what the committee's Democratic competitor has raised at the same time.

Christie has begun to couple his governors association trips - 22 out-of-state appearances in 16 states so far this year - with fundraisers for state Republican parties, congressional candidates and "retail stops" where local media coverage is encouraged. Christie addressed the state GOP while in Tennessee after a day spent campaigning for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Gov. Bill Haslam.

"The activity level will only pick up," said Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. "He continues to be in high demand on the stump."

In recent weeks, Christie has also waded into new territory by delivering a foreign policy speech in New York. He has also spoken publicly and privately with GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, whose interests are focused on Israel and not domestic policy or issues such as the massive budget deficit Christie faces at home in New Jersey.

Such moves carry risk for Christie, who could alienate Republican supporters at home as he tries to recover those lost outside New Jersey.

"I think he's in national mode, not state mode. And right now he's the governor and he's got to focus on the state," said Bob Lebovics, a Republican donor based in New Jersey who attended Christie's appearance last month at the Republican Jewish Coalition's meeting in Las Vegas. "At the end of the day, it's not about him."

Such frustrations could grow as his national ambitions again become obvious. Christie last week announced plans to visit New Hampshire to campaign for gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein, his first visit to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state since the 2012 election. He'll visit local businesses while there and could also campaign for U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown.

Christie is also paying attention to Iowa, which hosts the nation's first presidential caucuses. He'll be there next month to campaign with Gov. Terry Branstad, having hosted a fundraiser in New Jersey for the longtime Iowa governor last week.

Meanwhile, Christie's advisers point to a significant decrease in national media attention on the bridge scandal, despite the ongoing federal investigation and one run by New Jersey Democrats who control the state Legislature. Christie recently said the issue would be "a footnote" in his political future.

"I just act like myself, and people take it or leave it," Christie said in Tennessee. "And I'm completely content with that."

---

Peoples reported from New York. Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington and AP writers Jill Colvin in New Jersey and Adrian Sainz in Memphis contributed to this report.

Christie plunges back into building 2016 coalition with appearance on 'Tonight'
Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, left, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie participate in the morning session of the National Governor's Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: Howard Stern, Jimmy Kimmel and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attend "Howard Stern's Birthday Bash" presented by SiriusXM, produced by Howard Stern Productions at Hammerstein Ballroom on January 31, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Jon Bon Jovi attend 'Howard Stern's Birthday Bash' presented by SiriusXM, produced by Howard Stern Productions at Hammerstein Ballroom on January 31, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waits for the start of a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to representatives from Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. Fellow Republicans are assessing the damage of new allegations that Gov. Christie knew about a traffic-blocking operation orchestrated by top aides.(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, center, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, display different reactions as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, left, speaks during a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to representatives from Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. Fellow Republicans are assessing the damage of new allegations that Gov. Christie knew about a traffic-blocking operation orchestrated by top aides. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waits for the start of a ceremony to pass official hosting duties of next year's Super Bowl to representatives from Arizona, Saturday Feb. 1, 2014 in New York. Fellow Republicans are assessing the damage of new allegations that Gov. Christie knew about a traffic-blocking operation orchestrated by top aides. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Faced with a widening political scandal that threatens to undermine his second term and a possible 2016 presidential run, Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" but that the issue doesn't define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrives to deliver his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J.Faced with a widening political scandal that threatens to undermine his second term and a possible 2016 presidential run, Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" but that the issue doesn't define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center right, delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration ?let down the people we are entrusted to serve? but that it doesn?t define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State Of The State address at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Christie apologized again Tuesday, saying his administration ?let down the people we are entrusted to serve? but that it doesn?t define his team or the state. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, second left, arrives at Fort Lee, N.J., City Hall, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Christie traveled to Fort Lee to apologize in person to Mayor Mark Sokolich. Moving quickly to contain a widening political scandal, Gov. Chris Christie fired one of his top aides Thursday and apologized repeatedly for the "abject stupidity" of his staff, insisting he had no idea anyone around him had engineered traffic jams to get even with a Democratic mayor. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
FORT LEE, NJ - JANUARY 09: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters the Borough Hall in Fort Lee to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich on January 9, 2014 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. According to reports Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
FORT LEE, NJ - JANUARY 09: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves the Borough Hall in Fort Lee where he apologized to Mayor Mayor Mark Sokolich on January 9, 2014 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. According to reports Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Governor Chris Christie talks to a reporter following a visit to Fort Lee Borough Hall Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Fort Lee, N.J. to apologize to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich about the governor's staff allegedly closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
TRENTON, NJ - JANUARY 9: David Wildstein (R) former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority and his attorney Alan Zegas (L) is sworn in to testify at a hearing held by the Assembly Transportation Committee January 9, 2014 in Trenton, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. The committee has subpoenaed David Wildstein former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority to testify about the agency's decision to temporarily close some access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee in September 2013. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton. N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie walks to the podium before a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
In a Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 photo, traffic moves across the George Washington Bridge, in Fort Lee, N.J. A top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is linked through emails and text messages to a seemingly deliberate plan to create traffic gridlock in a town at the base of the bridge after its mayor refused to endorse Christie for re-election. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly wrote in an Aug. 13 email to David Wildstein, a top political appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the George Washington Bridge connecting New Jersey and New York City. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
A car uses an onramp to the George Washington Bridge toll plaza in Fort Lee, N.J., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. The onramp was closed for three days in September 2013 snarling traffic at one of the world's busiest bridges, which links New Jersey and New York City. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faces political fallout over the traffic jam that caused hours-long backups for commuters and others as children started the school year.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Capitol Hill reporters watch a news conference with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie while waiting for House John Boehner's of Ohio news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Boehner said he believes Gov. Chris Christie remains a serious contender for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination, despite the traffic jam scandal engulfing the New Jersey governor.
This June 12, 2013 photo released by NBC shows host Jimmy Fallon, right, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Chistie during a taping of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," in New York. (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)
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