- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

JOHNSTON, R.I. (AP) - Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Friday that the Rhode Island governor’s race is winnable for the party and that he’ll return to the state before Nov. 4 to campaign for Cranston Mayor Allan Fung.

Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a possible 2016 White House contender, pledged during a campaign stop in Rhode Island to do “everything we possibly can” to help Fung defeat Democrat Gina Raimondo, who’s now the state treasurer. He said he plans to come back more than once before Election Day, but he didn’t immediately indicate whether the RGA will run TV ads.

“This was not a state that was on our map six months ago. It is now firmly on our map,” Christie told reporters outside an Italian restaurant in Johnston.

He called Fung “extraordinarily qualified” and praised his stewardship of Cranston, saying the mayor has brought people together.

“People are so frustrated about government that doesn’t work for them. … What they want is a government that actually accomplishes things for them,” Christie said. “That’s why I’m so excited about Allan because his service as mayor has shown that you can do that. And I think he’s going to bring the same spirit to the Statehouse.”

Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party criticized the visit, calling Christie “one of the most controversial and fiscally irresponsible governors in the country.”

Christie has come under heat for a politically motivated bid by members of his staff last year to create traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge. The governor has said he played no role. New Jersey also has seen its credit rating fall under Christie and has lagged in its economic recovery.

“Christie has made himself famous for his outbursts, his ongoing Bridgegate scandal and the gross mismanagement of his state,” Peter Baptista, who is directing Rhode Island Democrats’ coordinated campaign, said in a statement. “That’s the record of failed leadership that Allan Fung is embracing - and apparently wants to emulate.”

Raimondo is considered the front-runner in the governor’s race, but Fung has opened a big money lead thanks to an infusion of public matching funds, campaign finance records show. The treasurer’s high-profile backers include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose political action committee plans to run TV ads for her.

Friday’s event in Johnston featured a large crowd that included Democratic Mayor Joseph Polisena, who gave Christie a key to the town. The governor and Fung slowly made their way through the restaurant shaking hands, and Christie obliged nearly every supporter who asked for a selfie with him.

“Love the hat, baby,” he told one man whose baseball cap had letters that spelled out “Al Fung for Governor.”

Fung said he has long admired Christie and is proud to have his support. The two were meeting for the first time.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is holding a fundraiser for Fung in Providence next week.

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