SAN FRANCISCO — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Friday that Republicans will unite behind Neel Kashkari, California’s GOP nominee for governor, after a divisive primary against a tea party favorite but also said he has “work to do” to attract national fundraising for his long-shot bid.
Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, appeared with Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official, at a flower warehouse in the liberal stronghold of San Francisco before heading to a $10,000-a-plate fundraiser for the association.
“He knows how difficult this race is,” Christie told reporters. “But I believe he’s going to do the work, and when he does, you’re going to see not only the RGA but lots of Republicans across the country, when they see an opportunity to win here in California, are really going to be rushing here.”
Incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has $21 million in his campaign account and won 54.5 percent of the vote in last week’s top-two primary, compared to about 19.4 percent for Kashkari.
Christie said Kashkari’s vote for President Barack Obama in 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, should not preclude Republicans from backing him. He says anyone who wants to vote for a candidate who agrees with them 100 percent of the time should “go home and look in the mirror.”
Christie urged Democrats to consider Kashkari’s candidacy, noting that New Jersey’s state Legislature, like California’s is controlled by Democrats, and he was the first Republican to be elected statewide in 12 years when he won in 2009.
“Look at New Jersey, nothing grave has happened. In fact, I think most people would say that New Jersey is more united today than it has been in decades and that we’re doing really good things together,” he said. “And I think that same dynamic could happen here in California.”
Both men denounced comments made earlier this week by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who compared being gay to conditions such as alcoholism, in which people can choose to change their behavior.
Christie said he does not believe “that’s an apt analogy and not one that should be made because I think it’s wrong.” But he said every public official should speak for themselves.
Kashkari said he met with Perry, another potential GOP presidential candidate, to discuss economic issues before he made the comments about homosexuality. He said people should “cherish each other based on who we are.”
“Somebody’s sexual orientation is nothing to be treated. We are who we are, and the notion that you’re going to convert someone from one to the other I just fundamentally don’t agree with,” he said.
Christie’s stop is part of a cross-country revival tour in which he is trying to shore up his reputation after a bridge-closing political scandal at home put a dent in his national aspirations. In recent weeks he has visited Pennsylvania, Tennessee, New Mexico, Iowa and New Hampshire.
He appeared Thursday night on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and is spending the weekend at a summit in Utah hosted by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Christie’s visit comes as Republicans in Congress are jockeying to fill a leadership void after the surprise primary loss this week of Majority Leader Eric Cantor by a little known tea party candidate.
Christie said he was “sad to have seen him lose” but does not see any broader message about GOP prospects in Cantor’s loss.
“No. I think it’s a sign for what happened in the 7th congressional district in Virginia,” he said.
But the shake-up has jeopardized the chances for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress this year, and the issue could present a challenge for Republican candidates in November. But the New Jersey governor mocked a reporter who asked where he stands on it Friday.
“I’m sure you’d love me to do that, and in fact, what I want to do in a flower warehouse, I want to give you a very complex answer behind a set of microphones on a contentious issue that’s driving a debate all across the country,” he said sarcastically. “No thank you.”