One of the most significant signs that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had become a pariah among many conservatives in 2012 was the virtual blacklisting of him last year by the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC.
CPAC, which holds an annual high-profile days-long event each year that serves as a showcase for conservative public officials and influencers, as well as a springboard for those looking to become the next new star, famously snubbed the Garden State’s governor after a few steps that put his conservative stripes in doubt.
There was that embrace with President Obama for what Christie very vocally noted was his impressive response to the governor’s requests for help after Superstorm Sandy. Then there was Christie’s support expanding Medicaid.
Now, Christie is on the Who's Who list for the 2014 CPAC event, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday and will be held at a resort just outside Washington, D.C. He will be joining the likes of Tea Party Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin, and former Alaska Gov. and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
“CPAC is the best opportunity that we conservatives have to send our message to a huge audience,” said CPAC head Al Cardenas. “We have 10,000 people at our gathering. A survey last year showed that the most covered events [in 2012] were the Super Bowl, the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions, and CPAC. This is our opportunity – once a year – to send our message about what it is really is to be a conservative.”
Cardenas, who has done lobbying and governmental affairs work, said that Christie has essentially redeemed himself and re-earned a spot on the event’s stage.
“Chris Christie had the support of many Democratic lawmakers in the state for legislation, he cut taxes and improved education,” Cardenas said to Fox News Latino. “When we looked at his accomplishments, we decided he deserved [an invitation].”
The lane-closing scandal that erupted in January – in which highly ranked staffers in the Christie administration reportedly conspired to create a traffic nightmare in a town near the George Washington Bridge last year, when its mayor would not support the governor for re-election – did not imperil his invitation to CPAC, Cardenas said.
The CPAC head said that he is taking Christie at his word when he says that he did not know that some on his staff had planned to cause a gridlock around Fort Lee, New Jersey.
“As far as we know until now, someone important in his office acted inappropriately,” Cardenas said. “There are investigations, Democrats in the New Jersey and Washington have looked for something to bring him down. We should not judge him.”
The event is scheduled to feature dozens of speakers and panels. Some of the topics include income inequality, privacy rights, foreign policy and immigration.
“We will discuss these issues from the conservative perspective, not that of the White House,” he said.
“Our vision is radically different,” he said.
A key goal of this year’s gathering is how to find unity among Republicans and the conservative movement, Cardenas said.
“Divided we fall,” he said.
“I think we can have a modest gain in the House, and get a majority in the Senate,” he added, referring to the mid-term November elections.
“We need to inject momentum in the movement,” he said, “instead of rejecting people, we need to be winning over people to our way.”