Dogged by growing outrage over his showdown with state workers over pensions, facing trouble at home over his sharp attacks on public schools and still awaiting the result of several investigations into the scandal web involving Bridgegate, corruption at the Port Authority and politicization of recovery aid from Superstorm Sandy since 2012, New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie is still busily plotting a course for 2016—and an argument can be made that he’s still the front-runner in a crowded and chaotic field. And it appears his chief focus is on New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary, whose flinty, conservative but independent-minded Republican voters might be Christie’s best shot at getting out in front of his less-than-impressive rivals as the primary season gets underway in January 2016.
According to NH Journal, a New Hampshire political report—and also reported by the Star-Ledger, via the right-wing Save Jersey blog—yet a third Christie aide is making his way to the Granite State, leaving his New Jersey post to become what amounts to an advance guard for the governor, who’s been making frequent stops in New Hampshire himself. Says NH Journal:
Another Chris Christie “Jersey Boy” is headed to first-in-the-nation New Hampshire. Peter Sheridan will leave his post as deputy executive director of the New Jersey Republican Party to become the deputy campaign manager for New Hampshire Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein.
Sheridan, the third Christie-linked GOP operative in New Hampshire, follows Matt Mowers, who took over as leader of the New Hampshire GOP last year and, as Christie Watch reported in March, was tangentially involved in Bridgegate; and Colin Reed, a former Christie public relations aide who’s serving as campaign manager for carpetbagger Scott Brown’s US Senate campaign there. As NH Journal says, Christie is “laying the groundwork for a leadoff primary state campaign after the mid-terms are history.”
Meanwhile, Christie’s office has just announced that he’ll be making a showboating visit to Mexico in early September, supposedly to promote increased trade, economic growth, job creation and higher education in both New Jersey and Mexico,” but actually to begin to develop the rudiments of a foreign policy for his 2016 campaign—beyond, that is, kowtowing to Sheldon Adelson by supporting Israel. Even more importantly, perhaps, Christie wants to tout his supposed appeal to Hispanic-American voters, As the Asbury Park Press’s Capitol Quickies blog notes:
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During his 2013 re-election campaign, Christie used Spanish-language commercials to reach Latino voters. Exit polls conducted by Edison Research showed the effort paid off with polls showing that 51 percent of Latinos voted for the governor.
As reported by The New York Times, Christie’s Mexico sojourn is only one of several being conducted by various GOP would-be candidates in 2016, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Citing a GOP political analyst, the Times notes that challengers in 2016 may have to reach beyond the party’s narrow-minded, immigrant-bashing views:
“It’s become painfully obvious,” said Hector V. Barreto, who has advised every Republican presidential campaign since 2000, “that these guys are thinking bigger than those in Congress.” He called the Latin American outreach by Mr. Christie, Mr. Paul and Mr. Walker “a totally different approach” that recognizes what a liability the party’s current message on immigration has become. “They really do need to disassociate themselves from the party in Washington,” Mr. Barreto said.
But before Christie can bask in the adulation of Hispanic-American voters, he’ll have to deal with the problems at home, including the expanding investigation into the Port Authority, filled with Christie cronies, where the recently resigned chairman, David Samson, a Christie mentor, reportedly lined the pockets of his own law firm, Wolff & Samson, with money from Port Authority coffers. According to Bloomberg/Business Week, buried in a new bond prospectus the Port Authority has disclosed a lot more information about subpoenas it’s received from local and US agencies. Says the Bloomberg report:
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey disclosed an expanded list of state and federal subpoenas it’s received as part of investigations that stem from intentional lane closings at the George Washington Bridge. In a bond prospectus dated Aug. 6, the agency listed subpoenas seeking information about its activities at properties including a port in Brooklyn, the Atlantic City airport and a former military terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey. It also includes inquiries about projects already known to be subjects of interest, such as the financing of repairs on the Pulaski Skyway, the project to raise the Bayonne Bridge and the affair last year known as Bridgegate. The disclosures mark the fullest accounting yet of the scope of the probes by US Attorney Paul Fishman, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., the US Securities and Exchange Commission and a legislative committee in New Jersey. Revelations about the agency have triggered the resignations of three officials and the creation of a panel assembled by the governors of both states to study its management structure.
All that’s hanging over Christie’s head as he travels to New Hampshire, Mexico and points in between—and it’s reflected in still-weak New Jersey polls about Christie’s popularity. Outside of New Jersey, GOP voters may not be paying much attention (yet) to Bridgegate and the Port Authority, but at home New Jerseyans have heard it all, and it’s weighing on the governor. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Christie Chronicles blog:
Just under half of New Jersey voters approve of Gov. Christie’s job performance, according to a new Quinnipiac University Poll—the latest to find that the governor’s ratings haven’t rebounded since Bridgegate. The poll, released today, found that 49 percent of voters approved of Christie’s performance, while 47 percent disapproved. The split represents the Republican governor’s lowest net job approval rating in the poll since 2011. In July 2013, 68 percent of voters approved of him, and 26 percent disapproved.
Still, the Quinnipiac poll showed some strength for Christie among Republicans, 86 percent of whom approved of Christie, while 71 percent of New Jersey’s Democrats disapproved. That’s a sign that many Republicans blame Democrats and the media for the scandals plaguing Christie, and it’s a signal that Christie may be building appeal among the GOP base at the expense of his vaunted “bipartisan” appeal. That’s not a bad strategy going into a right-wing-dominated, Tea Party–influenced 2016 primary season—since Christie, if he wins the nomination, can always execute the tried-and-true tack back to the middle in the general election against Hillary Clinton.
And, speaking of Clinton, a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows that Christie is gaining some ground on Clinton, at least among New Jersey voters:
When the frontrunners are matched head-to-head in a hypothetical 2016 race, Clinton holds a double-digit margin over Christie, albeit smaller than in early 2014. Half the state’s voters support Clinton with 40 percent for Christie in a direct matchup. Three percent want someone else, and another 7 percent are unsure. In a January 2014 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, as Bridgegate swirled around Christie, Clinton led 55 percent to 34 percent. That lead was cut to 10 points in March.