Will Bridge Scandal Jam Gov. Christie's Road Show? | KERA News

Will Bridge Scandal Jam Gov. Christie's Road Show?

Sep 18, 2014
Originally published on September 18, 2014 5:49 pm

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was in New Hampshire on Wednesday, technically on 2014 election business. But he was also there to make an impression for 2016. It seems every time you turn around in the early primary states, you bump into another potential — let's say likely — candidate for president. Count Christie in the pack.

All of this as he's been dealing with fallout from the "Bridgegate" scandal involving massive traffic jams created by politically motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey.

In Salem, N.H., on Wednesday, as volunteers waited for Christie, they called registered voters to remind them about the coming midterm. There were about 100 people here — not a big crowd. Most were GOP activists and volunteers; some were simply voters who came to see the guest of honor.

Christie thanked the crowd for supporting "our ticket" in the state. "I've been here three times now since July, and I'll be here a lot more between now and November because it's such an important state," he said.

Christie was here in his role as head of the Republican Governors Association. But in Salem, he was with Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator who has moved to New Hampshire to try to unseat incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Christie highlighted Brown's previous time in the U.S. Senate: "This is somebody who has seen it and is actually willing to go back there. That is a fighter, everybody. That is somebody who is willing to fight for New Hampshire."

But as road shows go, it was remarkably low-key. Christie spoke for just two minutes, 40 seconds. There was no big rallying cry or crescendo, and he kept the focus away from himself. The point is, he was there. And his appearance still made the front page — it was the top headline in the state's big daily paper, the Union Leader in Manchester.

Christie spent much more time working the room and posing for pictures. One person stepped in and reminded him that they'd met once before. He called him "the next president of the United States."

Another attendee promised he'd be in touch when Christie does decide to run. And so it went before the governor headed out the back door.

Jim Destefano, a 50-year-old business owner, watched from the back of the crowd. "I like that he's blunt and to the point. I've seen him make progress in a very difficult state where he wasn't in the majority, so that's encouraging," he said.

But here's Christie's problem: Without me asking about it, Destefano, a Republican, raised the issue of those famous lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. "If I was on that bridge in the traffic jam, I'd probably feel differently, though. I took that as an abuse of government for political purposes, which is much the same as I see happening in Washington," he said.

The issue has hurt Christie in polling. In early polls last year, he was ahead of the pack in New Hampshire. A CNN poll out this week puts him in fourth place.

But longtime state Republican Randy Brownrigg said at the event that he wants to see what that issue looks like in a year's time. It's New Hampshire, he said, and it'll all get a full airing.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

To get an idea of who may be running for president in 2016, you just need to track the visits to the early primary states. Take New Jersey Governor Chris Christie - he was in New Hampshire yesterday. Now, technically he was there on business related to the upcoming midterm elections. But as NPR's Don Gonyea reports, he was also there to make an impression for the election in two years, pressing ahead despite the New Jersey Bridgegate scandal.

DON GONYEA: South Broadway Street cuts through the town of Salem, New Hampshire. Don't go too far or you're in Massachusetts. In a strip mall just on the right, you'll find a local field office for the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Volunteers are calling registered voters to remind them about the coming midterm election as they await a special guest.

JENNIFER HORN: All right, good afternoon everybody. We're going to get started.

GONYEA: That's New Hampshire Republican party chair Jennifer Horn. It's the 5 o'clock hour. There are about 100 people here - not a big crowd - most are GOP activists and volunteers, some simply voters who've come to see the guest of honor - Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you so much for being here, and thank you so much for supporting our ticket in this state. I've been here three times now since July, and I'll be here a lot more between now and November because this is such an important state.

GONYEA: Christie was here in his role as head of the Republican Governors Association. But in Salem, he was with Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts Senator who's moved to New Hampshire to try to unseat incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Here's how Christie highlighted Brown's previous time in the Senate.

CHRISTIE: This is somebody who has seen it, and he's actually willing to go back there. That is a fighter everybody. That's somebody who's going to fight for New Hampshire.

GONYEA: But as roadshows go, it was remarkably low-key. Christie spoke for just 2 minutes, 40 seconds total. There was no big rallying cry or crescendo and he kept the focus away from himself. The point is he was here. And his appearance still made the front page, the top headline, of the state's big daily paper today - the Union Leader in Manchester. Christie spent much more time working the room, posing for pictures.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Governor, could I grab you just for a second to get a picture with our number one volunteer here.

CHRISTIE: Come on, absolutely.

GONYEA: Another person steps in and reminds Christie they'd met once before and calls him...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The next president of the United States.

GONYEA: The next president of the United States, he says. Another promises he'll be in touch when Christie does decide to run. And so it goes before the governor heads out the back door. 50-year-old business owner Jim Destefano, a Republican, watched from the back of the crowd.

DESTEFANO: I like that he's blunt and to the point. I've seen him make progress in a very difficult state where he wasn't in the majority, so that's encouraging.

GONYEA: But here's Christie's problem - without me asking about it, Destefano raises the issue of those famous lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.

DESTEFANO: If I was on that bridge in that traffic jam, I probably feel differently though. I took that as an example of the abuse of government for political purposes, which is much the same as I see happening in Washington.

GONYEA: The issue has hurt Christie in polling. In early, early polls last year, he was ahead of the pack in New Hampshire. A CNN poll out this week puts him in fourth place. But one longtime state Republican at yesterday's event said let's see what the issue looks like in a year's time. It's New Hampshire, he said, and it'll all get a full airing. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.