Remember Bridgegate? Top Democrats want to make sure you do. That’s why they gathered in Fort Lee, N.J., Monday to highlight the one-year anniversary of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal linked to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and a posse of state party officials gathered at the Fort Lee Historic Park to slam Gov. Christie for the traffic jam, as well as his handling of the state economy and frequent travel outside New Jersey’s verdant bounds.
On Sept. 9, 2013, the New Jersey Port Authority abruptly closed some lanes on the GWB, causing massive gridlock on Fort Lee streets. Political retribution against the Fort Lee mayor, a Democrat who refrained from endorsing Christie in his gubernatorial reelection campaign, may have been the point of this move.
Some Christie staffers and appointees resigned in the scandal’s wake. No evidence has emerged to tie Christie directly to the order to roll out the orange cones, but federal authorities and New Jersey lawmakers are still investigating the matter.
“Bridgegate began Christie’s downfall. His popularity sank. His approval rating declined. More people began to dislike him and disapprove of the job he is doing,” said Representative Wasserman-Schultz of Florida in her Fort Lee appearance.
Why are Democrats piling on Christie? Perhaps they’re waving the Bridgegate flag because Christie’s presidential hopes haven’t been dashed at all over the last 12 months.
He continues to run hard in the pre-voting stage of the race, where candidates cross the nation to raise money, make contacts, and shake hands in Iowa and New Hampshire. According to early polls, he’s now the GOP frontrunner: the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys of Republican voters on Sept. 8 has Christie leading second-place Jeb Bush by 0.7 percent.
So the DNC is doing to Christie what the RNC is doing to Hillary Clinton. They’re trying to ding the first-place person of the other party in order to keep their negatives up in advance of actual primaries. And Democrats have long worried that Christie, as a relatively moderate Northeasterner, could be a tough general election opponent.
But 0.7 percent isn’t a lead, really, especially this early in the race. And there’s also evidence that Bridgegate has undermined Christie’s national appeal in a manner that might hurt him when actual voting starts.
Christie’s favorability rating is now underwater, for instance. According to the Huffington Post’s Pollster average, 47 percent of Americans view him negatively and 30 percent positively. That’s close to the exact opposite of the numbers he enjoyed one year ago, when his favorable rating was riding high.
Look at the Pollster graph of Christie’s favorable rating and it looks like an “X” lying on its side. The crossing point is centered on January of this year, when news about Bridgegate exploded. Yes, correlation is not causality, but it sure looks like it’s the Fort Lee traffic jam that’s caused a plurality of Americans to look at Christie in a negative light.
Republicans as well as Democrats and independents now have a much less rosy view of Christie’s performance and personality. In July a Gallup survey found he had the lowest net favorable rating of any potential Republican candidate among GOP voters: negative 10 percent.
Thus Monday’s press conference by Democrats is likely an attempt to remind voters about what caused them to change their opinion of Christie in the first place.