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Christie Dodges 2016 Questions, Says He's Focused on 2014

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie officially took the reins of the Republican Governors Association Thursday, becoming the chairman at their annual conference. He said he was “honored” by his colleagues’ “confidence” in him, but despite all the speculation wouldn’t entertain any questions about his possible presidential aspirations or those of the other governors gathered.

At a press conference he was asked immediately if governors should be the party’s standard bearer in 2016 and although he joked that he was “stunned” at the interest in the next presidential campaign and that he was “a bit unprepared” to answer he said his focus is 2014 not 2016.

“I think if any one of us in our individual capacity and many of us as leaders of this organization, on the executive committee, start thinking about 2016 at our own peril, but worse at the peril of our colleagues,” Christie said, choosing not to answer the question. “So I have to speak for myself and my focus is raising the funds that are necessary to able to get the stories of these governors out to the citizens of their state and to then move forward from there to help them by getting out on the ground and campaigning.”

Christie said “2016 is a long, long way away” adding he is “not looking to start speculating about other campaigns, we have 2014 to deal with.”

Nikki Haley of South Carolina did answer the question saying she does think the party’s next presidential nominee should come from one of the country’s state houses saying she “always prefers governors over others.”

“I’m a huge fan of governors because it’s not about talk, it’s about what we they do,” Haley said. “What I always think is important are results and is it really possible for people out of D.C. to prove results when they can’t even stay open?”

Twenty six of the country’s 30 GOP governors are meeting this week at the Phoenician resort with donors, party supporters, and Republican bigwigs to plot strategy on current policy and how to elect and defend GOP candidates and incumbent governors next year. Thirty six of the 50 governors are up for election in 2014.

Christie said as he heads the RGA his “sole focus over the course of the next 11 months” will be to work to re-elect and elect Republican governors, but it also gives him a platform to spend time in crucial early voting states and make relationships with big donors he would need if he does decide to run for president.

He later made clear his “first and foremost job is being the governor of New Jersey and I will continue to make that my priority,” balancing that with the demands of this new position.

One thing Christie and all of the governors are doing is trying to distinguish themselves from the tarnished brand of Washington, but he said  the problem does not just lie with Democrats or Republicans and “we are critiquing everybody.”

“The fact is these folks have a responsibility to run the government that’s what they were sent here to do,” Christie said. “And I think the frustration that many of us feel is that they are a headwind rather than a tailwind and that is not productive for the citizens we are all privileged to represent.”

Christie added at the press conference that also featured Florida’s Rick Scott and Indiana’s Mike Pence  that “his view” has “always been when a Republican deserves criticism he or she gets it, when a  Democrat deserves criticism he or she gets it, when they deserve praise they get it too, but they get it honestly and directly.”

When Haley was asked about the issue of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, something some Republican governors have decided to embrace, although it has been criticized by some conservatives who may be critical during a GOP presidential primary, she said it will “certainly” be an issue in her state come 2016, but it won’t be the “sole issue.”

Haley decided against expanding Medicaid, but other governors including Christie and John Kasich of Ohio decided to expand it in their states. South Carolina holds the all important “first in the South” primary during the presidential nomination process.

“What the people of South Carolina want is someone who makes good decisions, who is measured, who listens to them,” Haley said. “I don’t think that the people of South Carolina will make a decision on one issue. The people of South Carolina look at all the issues and they look at who will be these best person who will fight, that’s what the people of South Carolina look for. They want a fighter.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio