Christie Seen Working With N.J. Democrats as Rating Slips

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is starting his second term as he confronts probes into his office’s spending of Hurricane Sandy aid and its ties to politically motivated traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. Photographer: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

While New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has lost support from state Democrats as he weathers political controversies, he may still find backing from the party’s lawmakers as they work to pass policy initiatives.

The Republican governor’s job approval rating among Democratic voters dropped to 29 percent from 51 percent in November, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton state poll released yesterday. His approval among all voters fell to 53 percent, down from 68 percent in November, the poll showed.

Christie is starting his second term as he confronts probes into his office’s spending of Hurricane Sandy aid and its ties to politically motivated traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. Even as those troubles weigh on his poll numbers, some top Democratic lawmakers say they have a strong incentive to work with him, citing the clout wielded by the governor, one of only two statewide elected officials in New Jersey.

“By virtue of his office he’s the most powerful governor in the country,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford, said in an interview. “We have an obligation to the people of this state to continue to work to find solutions.”

The Senate and Assembly said Jan. 21 they are combining panels investigating the September lane closings on the bridge that snarled traffic in Fort Lee, and have issued 20 subpoenas that reach deep into Christie’s administration. Yet lawmakers still need to approve a budget by July 1 or risk a shutdown, and Christie laid out an agenda of tax cuts and education changes earlier this month for them to consider.

‘Severely Damaged’

Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, a Democrat from Voorhees, said the allegations have cut into Christie’s standing with his party’s voters, who were drawn to the governor’s personality. The lawmaker cited the Nov. 5 election, in which Christie received almost a third of Democratic votes, while the governor’s party was unable to capture seats in the Legislature.

“From his perspective it’s severely damaged,” Greenwald said yesterday of Christie’s esteem among voters. “With us, we have a job to do and it’s an equal branch of government.”

Christie, 51, won over Democrats and independents last year with his leadership after Hurricane Sandy, raising his profile as a possible 2016 presidential candidate. In New Jersey, the governor and his lieutenant are the only statewide elected officials and Christie appointed his treasurer, attorney general and other cabinet members.

Christie beat his Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono, by 22 percentage points in November after securing the majority of women and Hispanic voters, both segments his party is trying to court more aggressively. He became the first Republican gubernatorial candidate to win more than 60 percent of the vote since Tom Kean in 1985.

Hoboken Allegations

Now, 46 percent of respondents give Christie a favorable rating, down from 65 percent in November, the Rutgers-Eagleton poll found. While support fell among Republican and independent voters, a majority in those blocs still favor Christie.

The poll of 826 New Jersey adults was conducted Jan. 14-19. Two-thirds of the survey was completed before Hoboken’s mayor said Christie’s administration threatened to withhold Sandy recovery grants unless she supported a development project. Christie’s office immediately rebutted the claims by Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat.

“With another week of revelations, damage appears to have been done,” David Redlawsk, director of the poll, said in a statement. “The goodwill the governor built up among Democrats with his handling of the Sandy aftermath is gone, at least for now.”

Colin Reed, a spokesman for Christie, declined to comment on the poll yesterday in an interview in Trenton.

‘Envious’ Governors

Even with the drop, Christie is better off than other Republican governors. Recent polls by Quinnipiac University found Rick Scott with 42 percent approval in Florida, while Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania had 36 percent approval.

“Governors across the country will still be very envious of Christie’s above-50-percent approval rating,” said New Jersey Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, of Westfield. “It’s no real surprise that some support among Democrat voters has slipped following weeks of accusations made by Democrats. Poll numbers change all the time.”

Democrats, who control both houses of the legislature, are examining what Christie or members of his administration knew of the lane closings and whether they tried to cover it up.

Only 5 percent of those surveyed for Rutgers-Eagleton hadn’t heard about the bridge controversy. The Christie administration’s ties to the September traffic messes came to light in a cache of e-mails and text messages obtained on Jan. 8 by news outlets.

‘Traffic Problems’

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly wrote on Aug. 13 to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the George Washington Bridge. “Got it,” Wildstein replied.

Christie’s troubles grew Jan. 13, when the independent inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it was auditing Christie’s expenditure of $25 million in federal Sandy disaster aid on a “Stronger Than The Storm” ad campaign featuring Christie, his wife and their four children. Democratic lawmakers have said the ads gave Christie free publicity as he campaigned for a second term.

The scandals also are hurting Christie’s standing as a national political figure and he’s losing ground to Democrat Hillary Clinton in a potential 2016 presidential matchup, a separate poll released Jan. 21 shows.

Christie trailed Clinton 46 percent to 38 percent among American voters, according to the survey by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac. That compares with a poll by the university last month that showed the two essentially tied, with about 40 percent support for each.

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