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First on CNN: Christie heading south for Tennessee GOP fundraiser

CNN
Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 7:49pm

Chris Christie is southbound.

The New Jersey governor will headline a banquet for the Tennessee Republican Party in May, a GOP source told CNN on Tuesday, a trip that gives Christie a chance to road-test his message in the South as he prepares for a possible 2016 presidential bid.

Christie is booked as the headline speaker for the Tennessee GOP's annual Statesman's Dinner on May 30. The fundraiser is being held in Nashville, a major donor hub for the Republican Party.

After winning re-election in blue-leaning New Jersey last fall, Christie is laying groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential bid and has recently started reminding GOP voters of his conservative credentials, even as he grapples with high-profile state and federal investigations into his administration's behavior. During a recent appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Christie won applause when he touted his anti-abortion beliefs to a largely social conservative audience.

Christie has raised money in Florida and Texas for the Republican Governors Association this year, but the Tennessee speech will be his first southern foray that's open to the media.

Besides being a major fundraising hub, Tennessee plays a key role in the Republican presidential nominating process. As it was in 2012, Tennessee is likely to be a Super Tuesday state come 2016 -- its primary is currently slated for the first Tuesday in March.

George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are among past Statesmen's Dinner speakers.

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