- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Republicans on Monday kicked off their campaign to take control of the Assembly, with Gov. Chris Christie pledging his support through a videotaped message because he was almost 4,000 miles away on a trade mission.

Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick organized the evening-long summit at the Borgata aimed at rallying the party and building support to win back the Assembly, which Democrats have controlled since 2002.

Officials said more than 1,000 people registered for the event at the hotel-casino’s main ballroom. It was decorated with large red signs reading “Assembly Republicans” and a banner with the words “Don’t Move. Lower Taxes Are On The Way,” which also appeared on the side of semi-truck featured in a campaign ad-style video Republicans showed at the event.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who served in the administration of President George W. Bush, also spoke at the event and said Republicans could show leadership by offering “not a handout but a hand up.”

Assembly Republican Victory campaign committee paid for the event, but a final cost estimate was not available.

Here is a look at key questions and answers from the event.

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WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE EVENT?

Republicans want to take control of the Assembly, where they currently hold 32 seats and need to gain nine to capture the majority. It will be a challenge, experts say, because of redistricting and a voter registration disadvantage. Republicans have 1.1 million registered voters in the state to Democrats’ 1.8 million. There are, however, 2.6 million unaffiliated voters who Republicans hope they can persuade to vote for them. Aiming to get the GOP message in front of voters, Bramnick also called on Speaker Vincent Prieto to engage in six debates this fall. Prieto spokesman Philip Swibinski rebuffed the idea. “Speaker Prieto has a full plate dealing with the challenges facing working class residents in New Jersey and doesn’t have time for silly sideshows right now,” he said in an email.

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WHY WASN’T CHRISTIE THERE AND WHAT DOES HIS ABSENCE SAY ABOUT HIS SUPPORT FOR THE PARTY?

The governor, who is considering a run for the White House, is in the United Kingdom promoting New Jersey as a hub for life sciences, attending a soccer game and meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron. While he wasn’t at the event in person, he did record a video message to Republicans pledging to help however he could. Bramnick said Monday that Christie is 100 percent committed to helping Republicans win in November. Asked whether Christie’s presence would have strengthened that message, Bramnick suggested the governor might have distracted from the message.

“Look, I’m a big fan of Chris Christie, but what would happen with the media is you focus on Chris Christie and you probably focus on his potential presidential action. I’m telling you that this is about November of 2015,” Bramnick said.

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WAS THERE ANY CHRISTIE 2016 BUZZ?

Most of the first 30 speakers did not mention the governor or his possible White House run. But there were some notable exceptions, including John Sette, the GOP chairman from Christie’s home county of Morris. Sette praised Christie’s political aide Michael DuHaime, who he said would make Christie the next president. Organizers also filled a poster board with Christie 2016 campaign stickers near the entrance to the event.

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CHRISTIE CAN’T RUN AGAIN FOR GOVERNOR, SO WHICH REPUBLICAN MIGHT IN 2017?

Bramnick brushed aside the question and said the event is focused only winning in November. “This is about 2015,” he said. He said earlier that winning the majority would benefit him if he decided to run for governor in 2017, but he hasn’t decided yet. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who spoke at the event and praised Christie’s vision for the state, said earlier she has thought about running for governor in 2017 but has not decided yet either. Talk about who will run for governor is always the “subtext” of events like this, she said.


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