As reported here, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be in Chicago next week to give a speech, meet with donors, and headline a fundraising dinner.
Along with being governor of the Garden State, Christie is currently Chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA) -- a high-profile job that allows him to travel the country, develop a nationwide network, and mingle with some of the GOP's leading financial backers -- all while controlling a nearly $150 million midterm political budget.
A coveted post for any aspiring presidential candidate, and an influential position when it comes to gubernatorial races such as Illinois, which the RGA views as probably its best pick-up opportunity this year.
Perhaps not coincidentally, two of Rauner's senior staff are former high-level RGA employees.
Rauner's communications director, Mike Schrimpf (photo right), spent six years as communications director for the RGA before leaving last year to go to work for Rauner. Until last week, Schmipf's LinkedIn profile listed him as working for the RGA, although he told Illinois Review he broke ties with the organization when he joined the Rauner campaign in April of last year.
“Bruce is an incredibly impressive and successful businessman, who cuts a great profile – a results-oriented reformer – for a potential gubernatorial candidate in Illinois,” Schrimpf told POLITICO as he departed the RGA. “Illinois is in desperate need of reform and I believe it will take someone from outside Springfield to get the job done.”
A second RGA alumnus on the Rauner team is Nick Ayers (photo right), who is handling the campaign's ad buys and production -- a lucrative spot given Rauner's significant investment in advertising to-date.
Ayers served as Executive Director of the RGA from 2007 to 2011, having made a name for himself managing Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue's gubernatorial campaigns in 2002 and 2006 before joining the RGA where he worked with then-Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who was chairman at the time. Ayers left to manage the short-lived Pawlenty presidential bid.
Ayers' and Schrimpf's connections to the RGA are raising questions among Rauner's opponents, who wonder if the organization might be working behind the scenes to help Rauner.
"I trust that the RGA is not playing favorites in Illinois during a contested primary," said Dillard campaign manager Glenn Hodas. "But from the looks of it, one has to wonder."
IR will keep you updated.
Side Notes below:
Side Note: Mike Schrimpf's twin brother Chris also worked for the RGA (HERE) together with Nick Ayers. He went to work for the organization after being press secretary for Ayers' boss Governor Sonny Perdue. He's now Communications Director for the Ohio Republican Party (HERE).
Side Note: Shortly before heading to the RGA, and days before the 2006 election in which he was managing Gov. Sonny Perdue's campaign, Georgia State Troopers stopped Nick Ayers and arrested him after he failed a field sobriety test and refused to take a breath test. Videos (HERE) and (HERE).