New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s still struggling with a swirling controversy over his office's alleged repeated abuses of power, is seemingly trying to shift attention away from the potentially damning accusations and on to his state hosting Super Bowl XLVIII.
After all, Sunday’s big game isn't about politics. And it was a big get for the Garden State to hold the first-ever outdoor, cold weather Super Bowl. Eyes across the country will watch as New Jersey holds the limelight, an enviable perch for Christie – a potential 2016 presidential candidate. Or at least, that's how it seemed back when the NFL announced in 2010 that the game would be held at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
But fast forward to today, when New Jersey can't shake “Bridgegate," and Christie's popularity is plummeting. Does he really want a national stage right now?
On the one hand, the Super Bowl is a boon. After all, the NFL has said this year’s Super Bowl is estimated to bring $550 million to $600 million to the New York/New Jersey area, a not-insignificant boost to the economy and local businesses.
Christie this week has been highlighting the event, appearing in Jersey City on Monday for a Super Bowl kick-off concert and holding a press conference on Wednesday to discuss his efforts to prevent sex-trafficking around the time of the big game. He did not take questions, likely to avoid having to address his recent troubles.
Similarly, on Thursday, the Republican gave an interview to 94WIP sports radio in Philadelphia, on the condition that the subject did not stray away from sports. It was his first interview since his epic, two-hour long press conference after top staffers were caught as the architects behind the political scheme to shutter lanes on the George Washington Bridge. An upbeat Christie predicted the Broncos would beat the Seattle Seahawks.
On Friday, Christie tweeted: "Super Bowl weekend is here!” He has an interview with Sirius XM Blitz to talk about the game. He’s also expected to attend radio shock jock Howard Stern’s birthday party in New York City.
Monmouth University pollster and political analyst Patrick Murray doesn’t anticipate Christie will get a recharging bounce out of the Super Bowl and that we’d probably be seeing a lot more of the governor if he wasn’t having such a terrible month.
“He’s been much more low key than he almost certainly planned to be around the Super Bowl,” said Murray. “I’m sure the original plan was to hold a lot of events in which he was going to headline…The strategy right now is to do no harm…He can’t be seen as taking any victory laps – then it would look like he was removed from the issues that are happening in his administration.”
The Super Bowl certainly didn’t help GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose New Orleans held the Super Bowl last year. His approval rating was on a steady decline in 2013. And in 2012, then-governor Mitch Daniels received a lot of negative attention, including activists’ plans to hold “Occupy Super Bowl Protest” when the Republican signed – just four days before the big game -- anti-union “right to work” legislation.
To make matters worse for Christie, he's facing new accusations, including a report this week in The New York Times showed that as far back as of May 2013, Democratic Mayor of Hoboken Dawn Zimmer was being pressured by the governor’s allies to green light a development project in her city. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has also claimed state officials canceled a series of meetings it set up with Fulop after he told Christie’s allies he wouldn’t be endorsing the Republican governor’s re-election bid. And Olympian Carl Lewis says Christie dropped a plan to make him New Jersey’s first physical fitness ambassador after he decided to run against a Republican incumbent for state senate in 2011. The governor also faces a federal audit for the potential misuse of Hurricane Sandy relief money to produce tourism ads featuring his family during his bed for a second term in office.
On Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio – who has criticized the lane closures as “immoral” but showed up at the Jersey City kickoff concert alongside Christie—announced he would not go across the Hudson River to attend the Super Bowl.
The Democrat, whose state is sort of co-hosting the game, said he would watch at home with his teen son. Perhaps the newly-elected populist, who has promised to reduce income inequality, also doesn't want to be rubbing elbows with celebrities at the pricey event.
“I’ve decided to watch the game on TV, just like the vast majority of New Yorkers,” De Blasio said in a statement.
Christie’s office did not immediately respond to requests asking about the governor’s plans for Sunday.
Politically, Christie is expected to forge ahead. His aides have announced that the governor, who chairs the Republican Association, will travel to Texas, Connecticut, Illinois, Utah, Georgia and Massachusetts this spring to hold events for the RGA and GOP candidates.
In a Quinnipiac poll released Friday, the Republican saw a 10-point drop in support since November, before his administration became embroiled in controversy over several different political schemes. The poll adds to a trove of surveys out this week showing that Christie, who once led possible GOP presidential contenders, is now slipping in favorability.