Can Christie Win Big In Vegas?

Matt Katz | March 27, 2014 | Katz on Christie

The “Sheldon Primary” is being held this weekend, and Chris Christie is a contender.

The gov is headed to Las Vegas Saturday, where he will join several Republican presidential candidates for a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. But the real action will be around casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who dropped nearly $100 million to help fund the candidacies of Newt Gingrich and, later, Mitt Romney, during the 2012 presidential campaign.

The billionaire’s Venetian hotel is hosting the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, and he is expected to meet with several possible 2016 Republican candidates — presidential brother and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — over the course of the weekend.

Christie’s friend and confidante Bill Palatucci will be traveling with the governor on the trip, which will also coincide with fundraising events for the Republican Governors Association that Christie chairs. Palatucci said that although no formal meeting is set up between Christie and Adelson, the two are “very friendly” and are likely to see one another.

Christie’s chances at getting a piece of Adelson’s billions to help finance a 2016 run are mixed.  Adelson is very concerned about Israel — he is a passionate Zionist who gives out the Adelson Defender of Israel Award. On this front, Christie appears to have good standing. Christie made a trip to Israel in 2012 in his capacity as governor, and he has successfully wooed establishment Jewish support in New Jersey. He has also shown hints of a hawkish stance on terrorism, which would appeal to Adelson over a more libertarian candidate like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. 

And last August, Adelson helped draw people to a fundraiser for Christie’s re-election campaign. Adelson didn’t attend, but he and his wife donated the maximum $7,600 to the campaign, records show.

On the other hand, Adelson’s other big issue right now is stopping the legalization of online gambling. He worries it could hurt the bottom line of his casinos, but Adelson also says it poses a great risk for compulsive gamblers. On this, he and Christie diverge. The governor signed a law last February establishing online gaming in New Jersey as a means of boosting tax revenue.

Plus, there’s Bridgegate. Adelson’s top political adviser said that the billionaire wants to support someone who is “not totally crazy” and could win on moderate positions — like Christie. But, the adviser said, Adelson is concerned about the toll that Bridgegate is taking on Christie’s image.

Christie’s biggest competitor for cash may be Bush, another potential perceived moderate. Bush is speaking Thursday night in Adelson’s private airplane hangar at a dinner for big-time donors, and Christie is not attending. He will be back in New Jersey that night, perhaps tending to the expected next big news in the Bridgegate scandal.