MARION, Iowa (AP) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was making his way across politically important Iowa on Thursday, but kept the conversation away from his own political future and focused instead on Republicans running here this year.

Gov. Chris Christie (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

It's a high-profile venue for the potential 2016 presidential candidate, since Iowa hosts the lead-off presidential caucuses. It also completes Christie's return from political exile, which was self-imposed after the bridge scandal in New Jersey which is still under investigation.

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Christie kept the focus on Republican governors running for re-election this year during a fundraiser with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad at the home of a Des Moines-area businessman Thursday. Christie set the tone at the morning event by saying he was visiting as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

He praised Branstad as "a legend," according to GOP staff who attended the meeting, and said the nation could learn from Iowa's economic success. Unemployment in Iowa was 4.4 percent in May, well below the national average.

Christie, who was re-elected last year, was expected to have raised $250,000 at the closed-door morning event, and was in Cedar Rapids attending a private noon fundraiser for the Republican speaker of the Iowa House. Christie was expected to stop in at a nearby diner in the afternoon before headlining an Iowa State Fair-themed fundraiser in Davenport for Branstad, who is seeking his sixth term this fall.

Christie has been traveling across the country as the GOP governor's group chairman, and has raised $60 million for the group. But speculation about his presidential aspirations has become more rampant in recent weeks, as he has spoken publicly more often and visited early-voting states such as New Hampshire and Iowa.


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