Gov. Chris Christie was sworn in as governor of New Jersey on Tuesday, just as a scandal-driven media storm—and a snowstorm—were burying the state.
The Republican governor’s first term saw him transformed from a young, tough-on-corruption prosecutor into a nationally regarded leader with 2016 potential. He led a hands-on recovery after Hurricane Sandy, and his approval ratings sky rocketed. Pollsters and pundits alike tossed his name around for 2016, pitting him against Hillary Clinton. November brought along his re-election and he won handily, earning the votes of 60% of New Jersey.
His second inauguration should have been a victory lap, the red-letter event for a governor many think has 2016 aspirations.
But then the scandals hit: news broke that top aides in his office and appointees at the Port Authority had orchestrated a massive traffic jam in an apparent act of political revenge; federal and state authorities launched inquiries and investigations. The federal agency that sent millions in aid money to the state announced an audit. The mayor of Hoboken went on national television and accused the governor’s office of tying that city’s Sandy relief funds to the mayor’s support of a development project the governor favored. The U.S. attorney in Newark—the very office Christie made a name for himself running—expanded its inquiry into that claim, too. It’s an allegation that could mar one of Christie’s most famous achievements.
In the words of the governor’s favorite rocker, Bruce Springsteen: “Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by.”
The snowstorm isn't helping either: on Tuesday morning, the governor cancelled the planned inaugural gala due to the blizzard that’s expected to bury the state in up to a foot of snow. Interest in today's ceremonies has been dulled compared to this first inaugration, when Chrisie seemed the rising star, according to a report.
The governor attempts to turn this limelight into a spotlight today, to harken back to days when he was the straight-talking, Republican du jour who famously said, as the president had, “compromise isn’t a dirty word.”
“The people of this state know that the only way forward is if we are all willing to take on what is politically unpopular. If we are all willing to share in the sacrifice. If we are all willing to be in this together,” he will say this afternoon, according to excerpted remarks released by the governor’s office.
Christie’s address also aims to re-up his credibility as a leader in the age of partisan gridlock.
“We have to be willing to play outside the red and blue boxes the media and pundits put us in; we have to be willing to reach out to others who look or speak differently than us; we have to be willing to personally reach out a helping hand to a neighbor,” he plans to say. “New Jersey came together as one community when it mattered most and now we must stay together - people of every background and belief - the government and our people - to help our fellow citizens reach their dreams.”
It’s the kind of rhetoric that has long earned him a spot with Independents. In his November reelection, Christie earned the votes of 66%of independent voters, according to exit polls—that’s six points higher than the overall 60% of New Jerseyans who voted for Christie.
But the scandals have eroded Christie’s hold on Independents. Last week, one poll showed a 10% drop in Christie’s approval rating amongst independents. On Monday, another poll showed that while Christie’s approval rating had remained stagnate, his unfavorability rating had more than doubled over the last year.
It’s a blow on his 2016 credibility, too, as one of Christie’s chief advantages as a Republican candidate is his hold with moderates.
The latest Qunnipiac poll—out on Tuesday—shows the governor trailing behind Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Wisconsin's Rep. Paul Ryan in a 2016 Republican primary—though just a month ago, the same poll saw Christie with a strong lead.
On partisan lines, Republicans are standing by the governor, while Democrats, who were angered by Christie’s moves to the right on gay marriage and guns last year, are rejecting him in a big way, according to a recent Gallup poll.
A year ago, 56% of the state’s Democrats approved of Christie’s work, while 38% disapproved. Now, just 36% approve of the job he’s doing, while 55% disapprove.
Tuesday’s ceremonies will began with an invitation-only church service in Newark, a noon speech and a swearing in in Trenton along with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno—who just yesterday spoke to strongly deny allegations she’d personally put conditions on Hoboken’s Sandy relief funds. Afterward, Christie has planned a private lunch with close friends and supporters at the governor's mansion.
Meanwhile, state legislators investigating the scandals have announced that they'll create a joint super committee with members of both chambers, NBC News learned. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg will co-chair with Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who issued the first subpoenas shortly after the 'Bridgegate' broke. The legislature will authorize the super committee, which will have around a dozen, mostly Democratic members, on Thursday.