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GRAPEVINE: Christie's next big chance

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After being snubbed in 2013, Gov. Chris Christie was invited to speak last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held just outside of Washington, D.C.

Forget the George Washington Bridge even existed for a second and then consider how much of a marquee moment it could have been for Christie, who will need to appeal to a wider conservative audience if he still has 2016 in his sights.

Unfortunately for the governor, the bridge does in fact exist, and members of his office have been heavily implicated in the controversial closing of local lanes leading up to it last September in what is now widely believed to have been an act of political retribution.

But between CPAC, his position with the Republican Governors Association and any other role that causes Washington to flirt with him, Christie now has opportunities to move past the bridge and push his early agenda to a national audience.

"He's going to try and resurrect his status as a potential frontrunner," one source said.

Part of that includes learning to "walk that fine line" between getting ultra-conservatives interested in his platform while at the same time not losing any moderates who might embrace his message.

When you come in as a governor rather than a member of Congress, that's a little easier to do, the source says.

While congressional leaders leave a paper trail of their positions with each and every vote they take, governors can toe the line more freely.

"It's easier to defend your behavior," the source said.

Beit's surprising news

A panel of real estate experts last week had spent nearly an hour talking up residential development in Newark when, in the program's waning minutes, Ron Beit caught the room by surprise.

"We're also working on an industrial deal," said Beit, the mastermind of the mixed-use Teachers Village project, responding to a question about development in Port Newark.

It was a curveball, admittedly, for a man whose notoriety in New Jersey has been tied to the transformative, $150 million residential and education project in downtown Newark. It also prompted this response from moderator Frank Giantomasi:

"That's news," he said during the Newark Regional Business Partnership event. "Can we get a quote on that please?"

Beit offered few specifics on a deal that is still in the works, but it actually sounds like it fit the community-oriented mold of his other projects. He called the prospective tenant a "technology-type company … a community-related company," but one that occupies industrial space.

Norcross goes there

Like they've done plenty of times before, Gov. Chris Christie and South Jersey power broker George Norcross III appeared in public together last week, this time to break ground on a new Camden school.

Norcross started with the usual jokes about Christie's favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, and Democrats winning back a majority in the Statehouse.

But then, referencing an annual charity event he participates in that calls for the closing of the Ben Franklin Bridge to runners, Norcross went there.

"There's one thing the governor, with all his power, has not been able to achieve," Norcross said. "I'm the one who's able to shut down the bridge."

The way one source sees it, this is just how it's going to be for Christie from here on out.

"He's going to have to live with it," the source said. "It's the reality of life in New Jersey right now."

The source said that one of Christie's "biggest attributes" over the years has been his ability to weather situations like these.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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