03:08 - Source: CNN
Christie drops 85 lbs., but thinking big

Story highlights

Chris Christie has lost 85 pounds as he gears up for a possible White House run

The New Jersey governor has traveled to 28 states in the past year

Christie is chairman of the Republican Governors Association

The position has allowed him to to meet with donors and activists in key states

Washington CNN  — 

When he won re-election by a landslide last year, Chris Christie’s calling card became the Republican who can get Democratic votes.

This week, the New Jersey governor travels to three blue states – Illinois, Connecticut and Michigan – to show Republicans gubernatorial candidates how it’s done.

It’s a busy travel schedule that comes as government sources say they have no evidence so far that Christie was personally involved in last year’s George Washington Bridge scandal. The governor has long said he had no previous knowledge of the plot to close down access lanes to the country’s busiest bridge out of apparent political retribution.

Christie is clearly relieved.

“You’re always grateful to hear that the things that I said appear like they’re going to be confirmed, if these reports are accurate,” he said during an “Ask the Governor” radio program on Thursday.

The M.O. of the GOP historically is to have an establishment candidate in waiting – someone who came close before but lost, like John McCain and Mitt Romney, or someone who captures the money and momentum early on, like George W. Bush. That hasn’t happened so far in the 2016 presidential cycle, which has allowed Christie to remain viable.

Still, it’s not as if the bridge scandal ever stopped him from preparing a potential 2016 White House run. He’s been getting in better shape since he had lap-band surgery in February 2013.

Republican sources confirm to CNN that Christie has lost 85 pounds. He revealed that at a private fundraiser hosted by key GOP donors including David Koch, The New York Times first reported.

In fact, CNN is told Christie discussed his weight in response to a donor’s question about his health.

Christie has largely taken questions and jokes about his health in stride. At an event in New Jersey with Romney earlier this month, Christie played along as the 2012 GOP nominee recalled a story about how he prepared a large meal for Christie recently, only to realize the governor was trying to lose weight.

“I brought out all this food and put it out in front of the table,” Romney said. “And Chris sat there and picked at a couple pieces of lettuce.”

Still, it’s Christie’s political prep that is most telling.

He has been using his platform as chairman of the Republican Governors Association to travel around the country and campaign for candidates on the ballot this year. It’s a job that also lets him meet people who could be helpful in any presidential run, especially the early contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Despite the bridge scandal making headlines not long after Christie became chairman, the governor has still raised a whopping $75 million for the organization.

How to campaign without campaigning

He’s also going to key swing states such as Florida and North Carolina, as well as some red states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma – where the New Jersey governor could use some get-to-know-ya time.

But along the way, he has seen firsthand evidence of conservative skepticism about the Garden State governor’s ideology.

The group Judicial Crisis Network, for example, spent money on negative ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as Christie was visiting the states. The ads blasted Christie for appointing liberal judges to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Another potential problem for Christie - especially among the fiscal conservatives in his party, is that New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded eight times since he became governor in 2010.

Christie aides argue the reasons for the downgrading go back to fiscal decisions made before he was elected governor five years ago.

But for fiscal conservatives looking for a presidential candidate who can get the country out of debt, it could be a deal breaker politically.