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Chris Christie's big day

Chris Christie's big day
CNN
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Sunday, June 22, 2014 - 9:19am

WASHIGNTON (CNN) -- It's an important day for Chris Christie.

Of the nine potential Republican presidential candidates speaking at the fifth annual Road to the Majority conference, which is organized by Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition, one may be in the glare of the spotlight more than the others. And that's Christie, the pragmatic conservative governor of New Jersey who's anything but a crowd favorite among some on the right.

Later Friday, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association heads to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire to help raise money for the GOP's leading gubernatorial contender in this year's election.

Both stops may give us some clues regarding just how serious Christie is about a run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

What Christie said

The Faith and Freedom conference, a three day confab at a hotel in the nation's capital, is one of the largest annual gatherings of social conservative voters, who are a key part of the Republican Party's base.

Christie, who was well received by the crowd, touted his credentials on important social issues, and framed the issue of drug addiction and treatment in a social conservative way.

"I believe that every life is a gift from God that's precious and needs to be protected," Christie told the audience to applause.

Christie then discussed his pro-life stance in regards to drug addiction and treatment for non-violent offenders.

"When we say we're pro-life, we need to be pro-life for the entire life. We need to stand up for the hurt and the wounded," Christie said. "From the womb until natural death, we need to be there even for those who stumble and fall, to be there to lift them up. To me that's the true meaning of being pro-life."

This was Christie's first address to a major gathering of social conservatives. Earlier this year he was well received at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the granddaddy of conservative gatherings. He wasn't invited to the 2013 edition of CPAC, in part because of his praise of President Barack Obama's response to Superstorm Sandy, which had caused massive damage in the Garden State.

In the most recent CNN/ORC International poll of Republicans' choice for the next nomination, Christie was at 10% among self-described moderates, but just 6% among those who labeled themselves conservative.

Christie's standing on the right

Reed, a longtime leader of the social conservative movement, said it's important for Christie to speak at the Faith and Freedom event.

"If he's serious about seeking the Republican presidential nomination, this is a constituency that he cannot ignore," Reed told CNN.

Reed pointed out that Christie does line up with social conservatives on many key issues.

"He's the first pro-life governor of New Jersey since Roe v. Wade. He's line-item vetoed state funding for Planned Parenthood every year he's been governor. He vetoed a same-sex marriage bill that the Democratic legislature sent him. And he's a faithful Catholic. We don't agree with him on every issue, but we wanted to give him an opportunity to share his story and make his case. I think people may be surprised at the reception he gets."

Christie's appearance at the conference may be a signal that he's getting more serious about a 2016 run.

A GOP consultant with ties to the Christie camp said the governor's address is significant because it's a signal that "he's not ceding any ground with this constituency, so if he decides to do something in 2016, he going to compete with all the wings of the Republican Party, and that includes the conservative flank."

"It sends a signal that he's not going to back away from folks who do not necessarily agree with him on all the issues. One of the hallmarks of his political brand is the he's not afraid to engage with people who may not agree with him all the time."

Christie, along with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, is one of the two keynote speakers at the Road to Majority conference. The consultant, who asked for anonymity to speak more freely, added that's significant because it shows Christie can land an important speaking slot "even with a constituency that, at least on paper, doesn't line up with his views. That speaks to his political power, but also the interest in what he has to say."

Visit to key primary state

After his speech Christie heads to New Hampshire, where he'll raise money for Walt Havenstein, the leading GOP gubernatorial candidate to take on Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan in November.

The visit is Christie's first since the 2012 election to the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House. And if he does run for the GOP nomination, winning the Granite State's primary may be crucial for Christie.

"New Hampshire is looking forward to getting its first look at Chris Christie in almost two years. Enthusiasm for his visit seems to be somewhat muted, but there remains a great deal of curiosity about him here as a future presidential candidate. More than anyone else, Gov. Christie's path to the GOP nomination in 2016 runs through New Hampshire, so leveraging early visits like this will be critical to his success," a veteran Granite Sate based Republican strategist told CNN.

While Friday's swing through New Hampshire is a quick one, Christie may be back soon again. GOP sources in the state tell CNN the governor may make a return trip to New Hampshire in July. 

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