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Taking the GOP's temperature on Christie

By Peter Hamby, CNN Digital National Political Correspondent
updated 12:40 PM EST, Thu January 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • RNC members support and sympathize with Gov. Chris Christie with some caution
  • One member says of New Jersey governor, "If he's lying, he's dead"
  • Another describes him as "a prizefighter in the middle rounds"
  • RNC is meeting to plot midterm strategy, vote on nominating process

Washington (CNN) -- Members of the Republican National Committee have a busy agenda this week as they gather in Washington to plot midterm election strategy and vote on a series of changes to the presidential nominating process in 2016.

Chris Christie, the under-siege New Jersey governor and possible White House candidate, was far from a central topic of discussion as Republicans began arriving to the meeting on Wednesday. His name, uttered here and there in a few hushed hallway conversations, usually surfaced only when reporters brought it up. And when asked about the still-unfolding political and legal drama in the New Jersey capital of Trenton, some Republicans here declined to talk about Christie at all.

Still, the RNC gathering was as good a place as any to take the Republican Party's temperature on Christie. After all, the assembled group of state party chairs, conservative activists and professional operatives from around the country represent the very people Christie must court to win the GOP nomination.

The controversies swirling around Christie

The collective takeaway? A wide-ranging sense of support and sympathy for the governor, laced with a heavy dose of wait-and-see caution.

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Here's what 10 Republicans said about the Christie flap:

Saul Anuzis, Republican consultant: "If he is really involved, when all the facts come out, it will be the nail in his coffin. If he wasn't, it could be a rallying cry, because people thought he was being unfairly treated by the media. That's the gut reaction right now by many activists. But if he's lying, he's dead."

Ron Kaufman, Massachusetts national committeeman: "It's New Jersey. It's not Connecticut, it's not Wyoming, it's not Colorado. Politics in New Jersey is tougher than most places. But on the other hand, he did exactly what he should have done. He took responsibility for it, apologized for it, and fired the guys.

"In this day of overanalyzing and 24-hour news cycles, it's being blown out of proportion. The media needs to fill time, especially on stations like MSNBC. It's overdone. But this too shall pass. There is nobody I know -- nobody -- that wouldn't take Christie tomorrow for a fundraiser in their state.

"To call this the same kind of crisis as Benghazi where people were killed. ... It's just so interesting that so many networks spent so much more time on this, at the same time a bipartisan report form the Senate comes out saying they should have stopped Benghazi. It takes your breath away a little bit. It's bad for the process."

Cuccinelli calls on Christie to 'step aside' from RGA post

Matt Moore, South Carolina Republican Party chairman: "Unique politicians have an extraordinary ability to recover. Gov. Christie fits that bill. Right now he is the prizefighter in the middle rounds. He has got to get back up. These next few months will tell the tale. Its possible he comes out stronger on the other side.

"People from South Carolina like people who are tough-talking with a big personality. Always have, always will. We disagree on certain policy positions, but once they meet the Chris Christie that I've met, I think a lot of people will like him. He is a real person who makes tough decisions and sticks with them."

Fredi Simpson, Washington national committeewoman: "There are a lot of people who like that he is strong and against the unions. He puts people in their place. You have to perform, you have to work hard, etc.

"Then there are people who say there is just no way that they'll support him. They don't think he is conservative enough. People are all over the place. But the bridge scandal is not going to be a factor. The bigger question for Republicans is whether he is conservative enough."

Decoding Christie's speech: Different strokes for different folks

Lenny Curry, Florida Republican Party chairman: "Chris Christie did what few folks do it seems in politics, and he took responsibility for the situation. He addressed the public. He addressed the press. People got fired. It's a New Jersey problem. It's not a national problem. And he is the head of the RGA. His job is to raise money to get Republican governors elected. So he is doing his job."

Dennis Lennox, Republican activist: "I think Chris Christie is still the odds-on favorite for the Republican Party in 2016. The reality is Democrats failed to find a credible candidate to run against him for re-election last year, and as a result they are throwing everything against the wall and hoping it sticks."

Shawn Steel, California national committeeman: "Gov. Christie is going through a major political experience that will either make him or break him. And at this point, he is showing genuine mea culpa, taking complete responsibility. He is not evading. He's a different kind of politician. He is not afraid to call it like he sees it. But he's getting hammered by the most liberal part of the country.

"If he survives, he will come out a stronger person. Most voters understand that politicians make mistakes. The question is how they deal with it. He is making lemonade out of lemons. He's had a whole bunch of lemons thrown at him, and he's putting up a lemonade stand, and I think it sells."

Veteran RNC member who declined to be identified: "The truth is, his personality is such that you are bound to have a time when people are going to take a swipe back at you, because that's the way you are. That's the nature of the beast. He has a persnickety personality, which he kind of cultivated."

Stormy days ahead as Christie takes oath

Chad Connelly, RNC director of faith outreach: "They think he really handled that whole bridge thing pretty well. What I am hearing is that he is taking it head-on, as opposed to what Obama has done with all these issues like Benghazi. I get a lot of pastors e-mailing me about that. I don't hear a lot of haters out there.

"I think people are going to wait and see how he handles it all as it plays out. But the biggest thing I have heard from pastors, in e-mails and phone calls, is 'I wish Obama would take stuff head-on.' Benghazi, IRS, Obamacare. He won't event talk about it. And here you got a guy on our side who actually answers hard questions."

Susan Hutchison, Washington Republican Party chair: "Bridgegate is interesting. I have to look at it from a big-picture point of view to see whether it's going to stick in a few months. We'll have to wait and see. Are there more shoes to drop? If there are, then they will have to contend with it.

"But I think people find him refreshing just in general, because the President is so untrustworthy when it comes to giving his word. Countless times, whatever he says is exactly the opposite of what he does. With Christie, what he says is what he does. I think people really like that. It's a sign of leadership, and I think we would all agree that the leadership qualities in the president have been sorely lacking."

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