If Chris Christie wants to get the GOP’s nomination for president in 2016, his hopes rest largely in one key state: New Hampshire. That’s because the other early voting states are not exactly friendly to Christie’s brand of center-right politics. Iowa, which holds its 2016 caucuses before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, is a stronghold for Christian-right conservatives, and the New Jersey governor isn’t likely to do well there. Ditto South Carolina, where far-right Republicans hold sway. But New Hampshire, which has its share of moderate and centrist Republicans likely to support a Christie-style candidate, and which allows independents to cast ballots in party primaries, might be considered friendly territory for Christie.
Until recently, it appeared that Christie had an ace-in-the-hole in New Hampshire: a key aide, who was part of Christie’s 2013 reelection team, was hired late last year as executive director of the New Hampshire GOP.
Unfortunately for Christie, that aide, Matt Mowers, has been ensnared by the lane-closing scandal at the George Washington Bridge. In January, Mowers received a subpoena from the New Jersey state legislative joint committee looking into Bridgegate, and it’s getting attention in New Hampshire. The reason why Mowers is involved is because he was in charge of Christie’s political operations in eight New Jersey counties in 2013, territory that included Fort Lee, the western terminus for the George Washington Bridge. And, famously, it was Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, who was pressured to endorse Christie for reelection last year. When Sokolich refused, it allegedly led Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and a Port Authority official, David Wildstein, to retaliate by orchestrating “some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
And it was Mowers who met with Sokolich repeatedly during the 2013 campaign to seek the mayor’s endorsement. Lately, Sokolich—who’s met with the US attorney’s office in Newark to discuss the matter—has been speaking out. According to the Bergen Record, Mowers persistently tried to persuade him to back Christie:
On at least three occasions, Sokolich said that Mowers brought up the subject of Sokolich’s possible endorsement. “He would say, ‘What are your thoughts?’” Sokolich said of Mowers. “He would say, ‘What do you think?’ Or he would say, “Is this something you would consider?’” The mayor added: “Some people might interpret that as a direct request. I don’t. I always viewed it as a gradual courting. I always viewed it as a way to ask so that there was always plausible deniability.”
Similarly, Sokolich told the Newark Star-Ledger that Mowers “danced around the issue” and that “plausible deniability” was part of Mowers’ approach:
“It was always a roundabout review of everyone jumping ship—Democrats jumping to their side of the fence—and he would say, ‘How do you feel about that?'" Sokolich said. “I don’t think they wanted it to be a direct request, because then they would have plausible deniability that they asked for my endorsement and didn’t get it.”