Gov. Chris Christie's South Florida Swing

Republicans kept Chris Christie under wraps Saturday, and Democrats seized on the news vacuum by attempting to turn the New Jersey governor's Florida trip into a political liability.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said she was happy to "welcome" Christie to the Sunshine State — with news conferences mocking Christie and his host, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, for avoiding public appearances.

She termed it "bizarre" for Scott to bring in Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate and chairman of the Republican Governors Association "and not brag about it, not show him off, not spend some time in front of the cameras." Her theory: "Rick Scott doesn't want to be seen standing next to Chris Christie and Chris Christie doesn't want to be answering any uncomfortable questions."

The Florida weekend is Christie's first out-of-state political trip since Jan. 8 emails linked close aides to the closure of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge. The resulting days of traffic jams were apparently designed to retaliate against a Democratic mayor who didn't support the Republican governor's re-election.


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Christie's Bridgegate answers show "a pretty big truth deficit," Wasserman Schultz said. Though she doesn't see a reason for him to resign, she said what's come out so far speaks volumes about his character. "Whenever you are someone who — like Chris Christie did during that two-hour press conference — has to say 'I am not a bully,' then you know you're probably a bully."

Republicans issued written statements through their state and national public relations operations, but kept Christie and Scott away from the public and reporters.

Florida Republican Chairman Lenny Curry's said it's "ridiculous that Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is spending her Saturday in her home state determined to create a political sideshow rather than working on the issues that matter to her constituents. She should take lessons in leadership from Rick Scott."

And Gail Gitcho, the governors association communications director, said Democrats are "desperate to avoid talking about [governor candidate] Charlie Crist's pathetic record on jobs."

The governors' absence left the field to the Democrats — who attracted seven TV cameras to their Dania Beach press conference — and prompted some stations to deploy crews to stake out Christie-Scott political fundraisers. Miami stations WSVN-Ch. 7 and WPLG-Ch. 10, for example, aired video of SUVs carrying the governors into a Saturday evening fundraiser at the Plantation home of lobbyist and Scott pal Billy Rubin.

The day wasn't a bust for Republicans. In Orlando, Christie gave the Florida governor a $2.5 million check from the Republican governors group. They raised more money in Palm Beach before the fundraiser in Plantation.

Video: Democratic critic of Christie and Scott gets campaign cash from lobbyist hosting Christie-Scott fundraiser at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics

aman@tribune.com, 954-356-4550