Christie bounces back

Whatever else may transpire from the New Jersey bridge-closing scandal, it seems wildly optimistic to suppose it will be a net plus, or even a total wash, for Governor Chris Christie.  Some of his supporters have suggested that his handling of the crisis will make him look even better to voters, or that he’ll benefit from a backlash against the frankly absurd level of media bias displayed during last week’s feeding frenzy.  Those may both be factors, but particularly outside of New Jersey, the story is still going to hurt him.

The purpose of the hyperactive media swarm – and the reason you’ll never see such a swarm when a Democrat gets into trouble, especially if it’s Barack Obama – is to burn the scandal meme into the minds of Low Information Voters.  There will be water coolers across the country in 2016 around which people who get most of their news from comedians will say, “Chris Christie?  He’s the guy who closed a bridge to cause traffic jams on purpose, right?”  Other factors might mitigate this damage considerably, and it’s always tough to predict what the LIVs will be focused on when elections roll around, but Governor Christie has a public-relations hole to climb out of, not a mountain to perch atop.

Having said that, it looks like he’s doing a pretty darn good job of climbing out of the hole, judging by the new Quinnipiac poll:

New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie is more of a leader than a bully, voters say 54 – 40 percent today, one of his lowest “bully” scores since the Quinnipiac University poll first asked the question June 17, 2010.

Gov. Christie gets positive marks on key characteristics: Voters say 51 – 41 percent that he is honest and trustworthy; 74 – 23 percent that he is a strong leader and 55 – 41 percent that he cares about their needs and problems.

And, yes indeed, he’s doing better on the leadership question than he was in the past, although the basis for comparison offered by Quinnipiac is a poll from way back in July 2012.  Remarkably, women in the poll actually praised Christie as a “leader” rather than a “bully” by a considerably higher margin than men.

The Governor is “doing better with the public than with the news media,” concluded Quinnipiac polling director Maurice Carroll.  “His job approval has dropped from the stratosphere, but it’s still double-digit positive, pretty much where he was before his Super Storm Sandy hug with President Obama.”  And that’s no thanks to Christie’s Thunder Buddy Barack, who hasn’t lifted a finger to help his old pal during the hour of crisis.  Not a lot of love pouring in from Christie’s tried-and-true bipartisan best mate Cory Booker, either.  Maybe some of Booker’s imaginary friends got stuck in that George Washington Bridge traffic.

Carroll’s comment about the gap between public and media perception of Christie is interesting in light of poll findings that say 93 percent of New Jersey voters “have read or heard something about the controversy surrounding the September traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge.”  That’s an amazing degree of media penetration statewide, but the voters just don’t hold Christie personally responsible.  And they’re not trivializing the matter, either, because a sizable majority say he should be removed from office, and perhaps even hit with criminal charges, if proof that he did order the traffic jam should surface.  Even half of New Jersey Republicans feel that way.  It seems clear they have accepted his explanation and apology for the event, and they’re satisfied with the staff housecleaning he has performed.

It should be noted that even in this otherwise rosy poll, 49 percent of respondents said the bridge scandal would nevertheless damage Christie’s chances in a presidential run, and another 7 percent say it puts him completely out of the running.  Perhaps some of that is cynicism about how the media storm hurts the Governor beyond the borders of the state that re-elected him by such a remarkable margin.

In other good news for Governor Christie, that headline-grabbing “investigation” of his alleged misuse of Super Storm Sandy funds turns out to be nothing of the kind.  The Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, David Montoya, set the record straight with a press release:

On August 8, 2013, this office received a request from Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., regarding the State of New Jersey’s Post-Hurricane Sandy Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan.  Audits of Federal expenditures of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including disaster-related activities, are something that this office does routinely.

The Department granted a waiver to allow the State to use $25 million of its award on a marketing campaign to promote the Jersey Shore and encourage tourism.  An audit was initiated in September 2013 to examine whether the State administered its Tourism Marketing Program in accordance with applicable departmental and Federal requirements.  This is an audit and not an investigation of the procurement process.  We expect to issue our audit report expeditiously.  We will have no further comment until the audit report is issued.

The “controversy” surrounded advertisements designed to boost New Jersey’s image – something states do on a regular basis, and which was thought particularly important in the wake of the hurricane.  The winning bid for these ads was a $4.7 million campaign that featured Governor Christie and his family, while they did not appear in the losing $2.5 million proposal.  The Governor’s office has pointed out that the advertising plan was reviewed and approved by the Obama Administration.

Rep. Pallone, who has been breathlessly racing before news cameras to hyperventilate about a “full-scale investigation into the state’s use of federal funds,” may now require federal assistance to clean the egg off his face.

It’s funny how the media almost instantly begins asking if Republican attention to any Democrat scandal will provoke a “backlash” – it doesn’t take long before they’re talking about the impending backlash more than the scandal itself.  They never ask that question when the partisan polarity of a story is reversed… and yet here’s a pretty clear example, at least within the New Jersey electorate, of “over-reach” generating “pushback” from voters who still think they made the right call in the last election.