In 2000, Chris Christie Made A Savvy Political Move That Turned Him From Failed Politician Into RNC Keynote Speaker

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s rise in the Republican party has been swift and unexpected.In the late 1990s, he was a failed Morris County politician, exiled from his seat after a flopped run for New Jersey General Assembly.

Tonight, he’ll be the keynote speaker fot the Republican National Convention in front of an audience of millions. 

How’d he pull it off? 

In the late 1980s, Christie joined the New Jersey law firm of Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci, a 20-lawyer firm. He was married to an investment banker at Cantor Fitzgerald, and specialised in securities law and elections law. 

While he was living in Mendham, N.J., Christie scored a seat on the Morris County Board of Freeholders, his first political job, in 1994.

But in 1995, he made a bid for the local seat in the New Jersey General Assembly. He lost by a huge margin. After the loss, Republicans recruited a new person to fill his seat on the county board. 

Then, Christie made the most important decision in his political life. He raised a boatload of money for then-Gov. George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential bid. 

Christie wasn’t new to fundraising. He had made a small contribution to Rick Santorum in 1994, and later gave around $1,250 to Republicans in 1996, according to the centre for Responsive Politics. But in the 2000 election, he personally gave nearly $20,000 to Republican causes. 

But even more importantly, Christie became a Bush “bundler.” He was one of the so-called “Bush Pioneers,” a small group of well connected individuals who used their personal networks to drum up financial support for Bush. 

In the 2000 cycle, Christie raised more than $100,000 from his friends for then-Gov. Bush’s campaign. 

This sort of help comes with rewards. Bundlers are often rewarded with cushy ambassador positions or preferred access.

Christie was tapped in 2002 for a position in the Justice Department. He was appointed to be the U.S. Attorney for the State of New Jersey, reportedly after his resume was forwarded to Karl Rove. 

The appointment was critiqued at the time by many lawyers who said that Christie didn’t have any experience in criminal law. Still, the Senate confirmed Christie, and he served out his term as U.S. Attorney. 

In 2009, he ran for the Republican nomination for the New Jersey governorship as an outsider. The state party preferred former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan.

Christie scored endorsements from some top-tier Republicans including Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani and, most notably, Mitt Romney. He won the Primary by a 10-point margin after raising six times as much money as Lonegan.

After that, he went after beleaguered incumbent Gov. John Corzine. Christie won that race, too, by a slim margin. Now, two-plus years into his governorship and still incredibly popular in a blue state, Christie looks to become the next big star of the Republican Party on a national stage.

Now, check out the 15 richest members of Congress >

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