Gov. Chris Christie's wall of Republican support in New Jersey is showing a crack after a handful of GOP lawmakers joined all Senate Democrats this week to vote for the first time to override his veto, and it could be a signal that his presidential ambitions are hurting his stature at home.

New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Legislators may have chosen to buck Christie now because he has spent so much time outside the state pursuing the presidency and is entering the last years of his second term as governor -- on the border of lame duck territory, experts said Friday.

"The governor has checked out of the state," said Seton Hall assistant political science professor Matthew Hale. "The three Republican defectors in this case were willing to risk the governor's wrath because he has left the state."

And the lawmakers' vote Thursday to override Christie's veto may not be the last.

"Obviously you address every issue as it comes up," said Republican state Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman, who voted for the override. "I think in the future, if we strongly disagree with him I think you'll probably see more of this."

The Assembly must also vote to override the veto for it to take effect. That chamber has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill, which would require anyone who wants to expunge a mental health record in order to buy a gun vote to first notify law enforcement.

It wasn't only Bateman, whose district includes liberal pockets in Princeton, who voted against Christie.

State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, who was a key part of Christie's transition team in 2009 but who has since backed Jeb Bush for president, voted against Christie. Kyrillos did not speak on the issue during the floor debate and said in a statement afterward politics did not factor into his decision.

Bateman said voting against Christie took courage.

"When you go against him there's a lot of pressure," he said, adding that Christie previously declined to move forward a judge Bateman backed after he voted against the governor's position.

The override was a score for Democrats, who hinted at the political heft behind it.

"This is big in a lot of ways," said Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat who is considered a possible candidate for governor in 2017. "But it just shows that there are Republican colleagues that I think have had enough."

A message left with Christie's spokesman was not returned Friday. On Thursday, Christie's office released a statement saying the Senate acted on a "half measure" and that the governor wants to work on a "comprehensive approach" on mental health legislation.

Christie previously dismissed criticism that he spends too much time out of the state, saying he talks with key staff about state affairs regularly. He also canceled campaign events when a severe rainstorm caused damage in New Jersey recently.

Earlier this month Christie told ABC News that never having a veto overridden, despite more than 50 attempts, was evidence he can keep Republicans together. He suggested that maybe he should go to the U.S. House to help them out.

Experts noted, however, that the override might not be such a bad thing for Christie nationally, as he competes in a crowded conservative field for the nomination. Being overridden on the veto of a gun-related bill could help Christie's contrast himself with New Jersey's liberal reputation.

"When he stands in front of an audience in Iowa or New Hampshire, he can if we wants highlight the only issue he's been overridden on is gun control," said Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Peter Woolley. "He's turning a negative into a positive."


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