Bridgegate’s impact on Christie’s presidential campaign
Since the so-called Bridgegate "scandal" broke in January 2014, political experts have said people outside of New Jersey simply don't care about it. Now that Gov. Chris Christie is officially a presidential candidate, that could be changing, but in ways different than many might think.
Christie has been fielding many questions about the scandal since tossing his hat in the ring on June 30.
"I think it hurts the governor in the sense that the questions are always negative," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "The fact that people keep questioning him about it in the media is really going to hurt him, I think."
When people are surveyed across America, Murray said they feel that the scandal is a partisan Democrat effort to smear Christie, but conservatives already were not thrilled with New Jersey's governor because they think he's too moderate.
"Gov. Christie is not popular among Republicans nationwide, but it's not because of Bridgegate," he said. "It's because of the Obama hug (days before the 2012 presidential election, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy). It's because of Muslim judges. It's because of gun control legislation that he signed."
Negative questions about the scandal give already distrusting GOP voters more reason not to trust Christie, Murray said. Ben Dworkin, professor of political science at Rider University, didn't think Bridgegate would hurt Christie with the voters, but predicted it could hurt him with another very important group.
"Where Bridgegate matters to the Christie presidential campaign is that it matters with donors," Dworkin said. "The people who donate significant amounts of money into presidential candidates, these folks are always concerned when there is a looming federal trial like we have here."
Christie's former No. 2 man at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, and the governor's former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, were both indicted for their alleged roles in the unannounced lane closures in Fort Lee leading to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013, that led to massive traffic jams and several investigations. Both have claimed their innocence, but are set to stand trial in November.
"This trial is going to be at the height of the presidential campaign and run for several weeks, and every day there are going to be revelations that will divert coverage from what Chris Christie wants people to be talking about," Dworkin said.
The governor has never been directly linked to the Bridgegate scandal. He has maintained that he had no involvement in its planning or implementation, and an internal probe cleared him of any wrongdoing.