Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, embroiled in scandal over a punitive traffic jam, swung into Boston Thursday to raise money for Republican gubernatorial candidates, but stepped into a different type of controversy when organizers had to scramble to change venues.
The last-minute shift, from a private home in Newton Corner to a Back Bay hotel, came after the event, featuring arguably the nation’s most newsworthy Republican and the party’s most recent presidential nominee, drew unwanted attention from reporters.
Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association and is considered a formidable potential 2016 presidential candidate, was in town to raise money for the governors association alongside former governor Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, and Charlie Baker, the party’s leading candidate for governor in Massachusetts this year.
Baker’s campaign worked during the afternoon and evening to keep the location shift a secret, declining repeated requests for the information about the event, which raised about $1 million from about 20 people.
Initially, the fund-raiser was scheduled at the home of New Balance chairman Jim Davis, a political benefactor who gives to both Democrats and Republicans and who contributed $1 million to a super PAC backing Romney in the 2012 election, according to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The evening was intended to be a staid and intimate affair, in keeping with Davis’s low-key, press-averse nature. After its location became public Tuesday, unwanted attention, including reporters outside Davis’s house Thursday, prompted organizers to reconsider.
Thursday afternoon, they decided to switch the venue to the Lenox Hotel on Boylston Street and Davis decided not to attend, said one person familiar with the decision.
Even then, organizers and attendees worked to keep the location a secret. Aides to Baker, who has made much on the campaign trail about his commitment to transparency, refused to say where the fund-raiser would be held. The governors association also declined to identify the venue.
Such sensitivity points to the delicate political position Baker finds himself in, attempting to appeal to moderate voters while hoping to benefit from the largesse at stake when two of the biggest names in national Republican politics are in the same room.
Even amid the scandal, which unfolded after Christie aides reportedly ordered the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge that caused massive congestion, the Garden State Republican has proved a dogged fund-raiser. The governors association said that January brought a record $6 million in fund-raising.
Some of those dollars are expected to flow into Massachusetts in support of Baker, who faces a primary challenge from Mark Fisher, a Shrewsbury Republican.
The association has come to Baker’s aid before, in 2010, raining negative ads on Timothy P. Cahill, the treasurer running as an independent that year against Baker and Governor Deval Patrick.
Baker declined to answer questions at the hotel before the event, but after it ended, he addressed reporters. He said no one from the RGA has told him how the organization specifically plans to get involved in the Massachusetts race. “It was more a conversation just about how important it is for our campaign to do well in ’14 and make sure we have adequate resources to compete, because there will certainly be plenty of money coming in from the outside on the other side,” he said.
The event featured three of the archetypes of the Northeast Republican brand, which tends to be more socially moderate than elsewhere in the country. A primary reason that Romney endured such a harrowing primary during the 2012 campaign was doubt among the party’s base that he was sufficiently socially conservative.
Like Romney, Christie has had problems with his party’s grass roots, which felt he did not put up enough of a fight against a court decision legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey.
Christie also irritated many Republicans in 2012 when he sidled up to President Obama in the closing weeks of the campaign, praising the federal response to Hurricane Sandy and lending Obama some bipartisan credibility.
Baker, too, has had problems courting the right wing of his party. On Tuesday, the Republican State Committee adopted a platform emphasizing the party’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Baker favors both abortion rights and gay marriage.