By THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that the bridge scandal facing him is disappointing but not a distraction from his job as governor — or from his effort to raise money for Republican candidates for governor.
"While the last six weeks have not been the most enjoyable of my life, the fact is we have to do our work," Christie, a possible presidential contender, told about 1,600 people at the Economic Club of Chicago.
Christie made the remarks during an hourlong question-and-answer session moderated by Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown, a Christie friend. Brown, reading questions selected by the club's board, asked Christie if the investigation would hamper his second-term agenda. It was the only question on the subject.
It was Christie's first major public appearance since the January press conference in which he acknowledged that his administration had ordered lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge closed in September, and that the order amounted to political payback.
The speech in Chicago was supposed to be Christie's debut as a national political leader after his landslide re-election in November. He also is the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which has been a gateway for past GOP presidential candidates.
Christie was spending most of the day in private meetings with GOP donors and expected to raise $1 million during the one-day Chicago visit.
Some national Republican fundraisers have said the scandal could damage Christie's prospects should he seek the presidency. But Christie told donors in a private fundraiser that he is focused on raising money for GOP candidates for governor this year.
"He brought it up himself, which is smart," said former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady, who attended the morning event held for Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin. "He said, 'I'm flattered that my name is mentioned, but we need to focus on 2014.'"
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