He was raising money in Pittsburgh Friday, but New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie said he'd soon be spending significant campaign cash in Pennsylvania for the re-election of his embattled Republican neighbor, Gov. Tom Corbett.
"That's the way you define a top priority when you're a leadership committee,'' said Mr. Christie, the head of the Republican Governors Association. "[It's] where you spend your time, I'm here with Gov. Corbett in Pittsburgh today, I'll be in Philadelphia Monday. And it's where you spend your money, and we'll be spending plenty of money here in Pennsylvania.''
In the face of post-primary polls depicting his GOP colleague as a distinct underdog in his race for re-election, Mr. Christie called the Pennsylvania race a top priority for the RGA and predicted that it would tighten on the way to a Corbett comeback for re-election.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stumps for Corbett
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was in Pittsburgh today to stump for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. The two worked the crowd at Primanti's in the Strip District. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/6/2014)
"The RGA will be here to make sure there is the right and appropriate attention paid to Gov. Corbett's record,'' Mr. Christie said as he stood with Mr. Corbett in Primanti's, the Strip District sandwich shop that is a regular stop for politicians on the stump.
"And I think when the people of Pennsylvania are reminded of that in the context of the election, as it gets closer, you're going to see those polls tighten significantly and he is going to be the winner in November.''
Among other bonds shared by the two former prosecutors are the challenges they face in balancing budgets tipping into the red.
A string of monthly revenue collections trailing projected levels forced Mr. Corbett to be noncommittal on whether the state would be able to reach goals for education funding increases that he outlined in his February budget message.
"I'm not going to give a confidence level as to anything,'' he said, "because we've lost $750 million to $800 million that the federal government normally gave us that they cut out this year ... So I can't make a projection as to what is or isn't going to be in that budget right now. I'm telling the Legislature we need to see some things get done and I'm looking forward to them getting it done.''
Facing a projected deficit of more than $1.2 billion, Mr. Corbett said he hoped that the state's negotiations with the federal government on his proposal to expand Medicaid through a private insurance model might be part of the budget solution.
But he's not counting on it.
"We've been having very good discussions,'' he said during the governors' brief news conference.
"I certainly hope that the people in Washington aren't going to slow this down for any budgets or for campaign issues ... We think it can help us resolve this.''
Pennsylvania is one of 36 governor's mansions at stake in November. Twenty-two are held by Republicans, just 14 by Democrats. That imbalance was produced by the Republican wave in 2010 that swept in Republicans up and down the ballot. The beneficiaries of that tide included Mr. Corbett, whose comfortable victory over Democrat Dan Onorato contrasts with the political jeopardy he faces now.
Mr. Christie said Mr. Corbett and other GOP colleagues were his chief focus. But, in addition to a fund-raiser for the RGA, he had also appeared at a lunch benefit for state Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, the chamber's president pro tempore. That stop likely earned the kind of chit that could prove useful for someone seeking convention delegates in two years.
"That doesn't inform what I do in this campaign,'' Mr. Christie said when asked about his presidential ambitions. "What I do in this campaign is based on Tom Corbett's record of accomplishment ... we won't be talking about Chris Christie in this race.''
He deflected a question on a Public Policy Polling survey this week that showed him leading among Pennsylvania Republicans in a prospective presidential nomination field.
"As far as the future, who knows,'' he said. "Everybody always likes to see people like them, I'm not immune to that but it doesn't mean much of anything right now. We're a long way from 2016. I haven't made any decision on whether to run or not, so it's nice, makes me feel good when I wake up in the morning but other than that it doesn't mean such when you're running a state like New Jersey.''
He sought to shrug off the inevitable question on the notorious lane closing on the George Washington Bridge.
"There's been nothing new on that since January,'' he said. "I can tell you that people in New Jersey care less and less about it every day and so do people around the country.''
As the two former prosecutors shook hands and posed for photographs inside the Strip District landmark, about 20 Democratic supporters chanted and jeered from the 18th Street sidewalk.
Several carried signs promoting York businessman Tom Wolf, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, who was in Philadelphia Friday, basking in an endorsement from SEIU, one of the state's largest public employee unions.
The Wolf campaign issued a statement deriding the governors' appearance.
"While Governor Corbett campaigns with out of state politicians, Pennsylvania is facing a $1.4 billion budget deficit, we have fallen to the bottom in job creation, drastic cuts to education have hollowed out our schools, and Gov, Corbett refuses to pass a severance tax on big oil and gas companies to help fund education,'' his challenger's campaign said.
During their brief visit, neither Republican tucked into one of the shop's trademark french-fry-laden sandwiches.
Both governors are noticeably thinner than they were a year ago; Mr. Christie's weight loss abetted by gastric surgery. When asked why he wasn't sampling the local fare, Mr. Christie told reporters, "I'm taking one home. You think I'm eating in front of you guys? Not going to happen.''
Politics editor James O'Toole: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1562. First Published June 6, 2014 12:55 PM