New Jersey Governor Chris Christie leaves city hall in Fort Lee, Jan. 9, 2014. 
ERIC THAYER/Reuters

Christie to try and shift focus away from ‘bridgegate’

Updated

Hoping to bounce back from the political fallout over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will try to shift attention away from the scandal and on to education.

The Republican – and potential 2016 presidential candidate – is set to unveil a plan to extend the school day and lengthen the school calendar during his State of the State address on Tuesday.

But the controversial lane closure plot by some of his top aides, which Christie has sworn up and down that he had nothing to do with – allegedly to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor – is sure to be the elephant in the room. It remains to be seen whether and how Christie addresses his recent troubles.

On his education initiative, Christie will say, according to prepared remarks: “Our school calendar is antiquated both educationally and culturally. Life in 2014 demands something more for our students. It is time to lengthen both the school day and school year in New Jersey.”

Details of the plan are not yet clear. But Christie will argue extending school day and school year will “improve student outcomes and boost our competitiveness.” The proposal could draw ire from the public teachers union, a group Christie has had contentious battles with before over tenure and pensions.

Although Christie has fired a top aide at the center of the so-called “Bridgegate” controversy, apologized to voters and Fort Lee’s mayor and says he will take action against other staffers if it’s warranted, the governor’s problems are far from over.

Christie is now being probed by federal officials over his use of Hurricane Sandy relief funds to produce state tourism ads, which featured the governor and his family in the run-up to his re-election bid. And more information could come out about the lane closure plan, as the governor’s aides are expected to be served with subpoenas later this week.

And it certainly doesn’t help Christie that the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday published a recent photo of Christie and former Port Authority official David Wildstein, with whom the governor said he had had ‘no contact…in a long time.” The photo was taken on Sept. 11, 2013 – day three of the lane closures.

During his speech Tuesday, Christie is expected to make a continued push for bipartisanship, something he has been praised for by both moderate Republicans and liberals following his response to the hurricane, which pummeled parts of the East Coast. Of course, there’s still anger from his party’s right wing over Christie’s notorious embrace of President Obama after the storm shortly before the 2012 presidential election.

Christie will need the support of liberals and independents if he does decide to run for president.

 A new poll, however,  shows Christie’s popularity has taken a hit among Democrats and independents since the bridge scandal. According to a survey by Monmouth University and the Asbury Park Press, his approval dropped from 47% in December to 38% now among Democrats. Approval also dipped among independents from 73% in December to 62% today, while GOP support stood strong at 89%, close to the 85% support he received last month.

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Christie to try and shift focus away from 'bridgegate'

Updated