The bridge closure controversy that has dogged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for weeks is threatening to go national as Democrats see a possible chink in the armor of the GOP’s potential 2016 presidential nominee.
Democrats in Washington D.C. turned up the heat on Christie with Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee, asking Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to investigate the closures, according to Politico.
Democrats have also created a politically-charged YouTube video with a narrative designed to raise the profile of the issue and link it to questions about Christie’s character and integrity.
New Jersey Democrats allege Christie ordered a September closure of lanes onto the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York — said to be the busiest road bridge in the world — as retribution for the refusal of Fort Lee Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich to join other New Jersey mayors in endorsing Christie for re-election.
Already two Christie appointees on the New York/New Jersey Port Authority — which overseas the bridge — have quit after it was revealed they did not go through the proper channels when ordering the lanes closed.
Christie has insisted that the closures, which led to as much as four-hour traffic delays over a span of five days, were part of a traffic study. But opponents say the lack of advance notice, coupled with no evidence of study results, proves that Christie’s explanation is not credible.
New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who has been leading the charge against Christie on the matter, said she would like a congressional probe. Assemblyman John Wisnieswki has subpoenaed all correspondence between Christie and Port Authority aides about the closures.
Political observers on both sides of the aisle say Christie’s emergence on the national scene explains why Democrats are trying to capitalize on the negative press.
“After his resounding win, we’re not surprised that national Democrats are going to try to take aim and so are state Democrats, who are looking for a chance to stay relevant,” one source close to Christie told Politico. “We know national groups are going to start looking for opportunity at every turn. That’s what happens when you do well and people start to focus on you.”
Democratic strategist Chris Lehane gave a similar commentary. “The nature and intensity of the coverage of the issue also reflects the fact that Christie is suddenly going to [be] forced into playing politics at a completely different level,” he said.
“For Christie, given his current standing, he will face such scrutiny for several years with both Democrats and fellow Republicans executing what is in effect a pincer action to define him.”
Having spent most of Christie’s first term trying unsuccessfully to define him as a bully, particularly following his performance following Hurricane Sandy, national Democrats think this controversy is an opportunity to renew that strategy, according to Politico.
“It goes to the heart of his potential liability… temperament is a real issue in presidential politics and in gubernatorial political,” Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns, told Politico. “It’s not fatal right now, but it’s a problem for him.”
For his part, Christie has vigorously denied the accusations, saying they have been “sensationalized.” He got an unexpected boost on Monday after New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed him up, saying, “I’m sure it is as Gov. Christie says.”
“National Democrats will make an issue about everything about me, so get used to the new world everybody, you know?” Christie said at a news conference Friday, according to Politico. “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”
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By Melanie Batley