By Samuel P. Jacobs
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The most popular Republican governor in the United States has not been invited to the country's most important gathering for conservative activists, a source familiar with the situation said on Tuesday.
As things stand, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a brash politician who clocked a 74-percent approval rating from state residents in a recent Quinnipiac poll, will not be among dozens of officeholders to address the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington next month, the source said.
The fact that Christie is not expected at the large gathering of conservatives shows how difficult it will be for him to win over an important group of activists should he decide to seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Other potential 2016 candidates, such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, are expected at the CPAC conference.
Christie, who is up for reelection this year in his Democrat-leaning home state, rankled some Republicans during the 2012 presidential campaign.
And some conservatives did not approve when he pushed for a multi-billion-dollar government payout to fund the costs of recovery in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. They considered the move not fiscally prudent at a time of $1 trillion budget deficits.
Christie raised eyebrows with his keynote speech at the Republican Party's national convention last year that some Republicans thought focused too heavily on his own accomplishments and too lightly on those of the party's presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
His praise of Democratic President Barack Obama for his handling of Hurricane Sandy as Election Day neared last November also did him no favors with Republicans, who felt he was giving Romney's opponent a boost at the worst possible time.
Conservative press baron Rupert Murdoch said then on Twitter that Christie should "re-declare" his support for Romney "or take blame for next four dire years."
In June, before both incidents, Christie addressed a CPAC conference in Chicago.
The schedule for CPAC, set to begin on March 14, has not been finalized, spokesperson Laura Keehner Rigas said.
CPAC, run by the 49-year-old American Conservative Union, often gives a leading platform for current and future Republican leaders to provide their vision for the party. Christie will be the rare exclusion among Republican officeholders tapped to be potential White House contenders in 2016.
This year, Romney will address the conference, giving his first public speech since his failed presidential bid in November. It was at CPAC last year that Romney, locked in the final months of a primary battle where opponents painted him as too moderate, proclaimed himself to be "severely conservative."
Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who has faded from the national spotlight with her recent exit from Fox News, will also address the crowd after a gap of a year.
Political observers often look to who has been left out of the conference as a sign of fissures within the conservative movement. This year, leading conservative gay rights groups GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans will not be participating.
A representative for Christie did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
(Reporting by Samuel P. Jacobs; Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by David Brunnstrom)