NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might be trying turn attention away from the September traffic jam scandal dogging his political aspirations, but late-night talk show hosts and Democratic lawmakers are not letting up.
Christie, a likely Republican candidate for the White House in 2016, has said he was devastated by his aides’ role in the four-day tie-up on the busy George Washington Bridge. The incident has sparked a federal inquiry and Democratic lawmakers have called a special session to investigate it.
Wednesday on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” the host enlisted New Jersey-raised rock star Bruce Springsteen, who Christie has said he adores, to lampoon the governor with a riff on the lane closures titled “We’re stuck in Governor Chris Christie’s Fort Lee, New Jersey, traffic jam”.
Sung to the tune of Springsteen’s hit song “Born to Run”, it begins, “In the day we sweated out on the streets, stuck in traffic on the GWB”.
Springsteen joined in: “You got Wall Street masters stuck cheek-to-cheek with blue collared truckers and man, I really gotta take a leak. But I can‘t. I‘m stuck in Governor Chris Christie’s Fort Lee, New Jersey, traffic jam!”
Two batches of emails released last week suggested that Christie’s top aides may have orchestrated the traffic snarl as political revenge against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, a town on the New Jersey side of the bridge.
Nothing in the emails suggests Christie had direct knowledge of the incident and he has said he has lost faith in the individuals involved.
Democrats in the state legislature are not necessarily taking Christie at his word.
The speaker of the Democrat-controlled state assembly, Vincent Prieto, on Wednesday announced the formation of a committee to investigate the bridge scandal.
“I am confident these talented legislators have the backgrounds, temperaments and experience to conduct this inquiry in a bipartisan, professional and responsible manner,” said Prieto in a statement.
“CHRISTIE FOR PRESIDENT?”
According to a poll released on Wednesday, New Jersey voters do not blame Christie for the traffic jam, but think the scandal will hurt his chances as a 2016 presidential contender.
More than half of New Jersey voters say they view Christie as more of a leader than a bully, while 40 percent label him a bully, according to the Quinnipiac University poll.
Fifty percent of respondents polled believed Christie’s statement he did not know that a top aide, who he has since fired, called for the closure of three lanes on the bridge possibly as political payback to the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.
Of the 1,207 voters polled January 10-13, after the release of emails tying the aide to the scandal dubbed “Bridgegate” by local media, 41 percent said they did not believe Christie.
The poll found 49 percent of those polled said the scandal could damage Christie in his expected 2016 run for the White House, with 38 percent saying the scandal will have no impact.
“Christie for President? This scandal hurts his chances, both Democrats and Republicans think,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
The Quinnipiac poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
A national poll also released on Wednesday painted a slightly different picture. Nearly seven in 10 Americans say the George Washington Bridge incident has not changed their opinion of Christie as a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, according to the NBC News/Marist poll.
But when placed in a hypothetical race against former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat also seen as weighing a presidential bid, Christie trails Clinton by 13 points among nationwide voters. A poll taken last month had Clinton’s lead at just 3, according to Marist.
A national Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed the bridge closure scandal had taken a toll on Christie’s image, with 26 percent of those asked saying they were now less favorable toward him, compared with 3 percent, who said they were more favorable.
More respondents to the Reuters/Ipsos poll believed he had a hand in the closures, with 31 percent saying they thought he was aware his staff intentionally caused the traffic jam, compared with 28 percent who said they believed his statements that he was in the dark.
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Edith Honan; editing by Gunna Dickson