John DiStaso's Granite Status: Christie would face big challenges in winning over NH
SUNDAY, JAN. 12: THE CHRISTIE CRISIS. It's ugly now for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and it could get worse for the potential Republican 2016 presidential candidate.
If the thousands of emails related to George Washington "Bridgegate" yet to be released turn up evidence he had personal knowledge of the vindictive move to close New York-bound approach lanes, creating a four-day traffic mess last September, Christie might as well not even show up in New Hampshire as a presidential candidate.
As it stands, if his denial holds, some here say he still faces a rough road. But if something shows him to be at all involved in Bridgegate, he may as well try to sell Granite Staters the Brooklyn Bridge.
Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, and a New Jersey native, says the scandal "plays right into all the stereotypes" of New Jersey that makes it the butt of jokes everywhere else, especially, it seems, in these parts.
As a New Jersey native, this columnist knows this firsthand, as well. Scala is right.
And then there is the image of Christie himself, as the bully, that he has tried so hard to dispel. He's back to Square 1 on that even if he did not directly give the order to put up those orange cones. He certainly created the "culture" that resulted in the petty payback.
Conservatives are already turned off by his "buddying around" with President Barack Obama after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, says Scala. This adds more ammunition.
The latest New Hampshire polling from the UNH Survey Center, in October, showed Christie, with 16 percent, and Rand Paul, with 17 percent, in a virtual tie ahead of Paul Ryan at 9 percent. The poll is obviously early and inconclusive, but Christie did have a plus-26 favorable-unfavorable rating.
Despite being a Jersey guy, his straightforward, direct style clearly does have a certain appeal to some Republicans. The latest controversy, though, reinforces all the negatives Christie has tried to dispel.
Lucky for Christie, he has plenty of time to work on Bridgegate repairs, says survey center Director and associate UNH professor Andy Smith.
"But it will absolutely hurt him in the future," Smith said, "simply because every other Republican who runs will be criticizing him for it. If you're explaining, you're losing, and he's going to be constantly explaining this. And there will always be the jokes."
Southern New Hampshire University political science professor Dean Spiliotes agrees that if Christie "is wrong about this, and there is something that links him to it, then he really is in trouble."
But he said the "culture clash thing was probably going to be an issue regardless," recalling that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani "did not play particularly well up here."
Spiliotes, himself a transplanted New Yorker, says, "There are a lot of stereotypes up here regarding the culture down there, but I've always been interested to see how he would resonate up here because that metropolitan area style doesn't always translate well, as Giuliani exemplifies."
Overall, Spiliotes says, "this certainly doesn't help him, but does this significantly change the issues he would have had coming up here regardless? It really depends on whether there is any other trickle or smoking gun.
"If nothing else, if he runs, we're going to be hearing about this every week for the next two years," Spiliotes said. "It's not going to go away."
WHO'S RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR? Conservative activist Andrew Hemingway has hired a consultant in the person of multi-campaign veteran Alicia Preston and last week hosted a gathering of about 20 activists at his office in Manchester.
Among those on hand were former state Sen. Jim Luther of Nashua, former state Rep. Kevin Avard of Nashua, architectural firm owner Harold Turner of Concord, who was active on Ovide Lamontagne's finance team in 2012, and longtime conservative activist and former state Rep. Rogers Johnson of Stratham.
Preston tells us Hemingway will decide by the end of the month whether to run for chief executive, but it's looking as though he's going to get in.
And why not? The field is barren, and Hemingway, despite his very conservative credentials as state campaign manager for Newt Gingrich and chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, is collecting warm wishes from even establishment Republicans, such as Republican National Committeewoman Juliana Bergeron, who initially urged him to run.
There is talk that former U.S. Senate candidate and media exec Bill Binnie is being urged to run, and unlike Hemingway, he certainly has the ability to self-fund.
John Stephen has also been approached, but the 2010 nominee is not champing at the bit for a fourth run at high office.
Still, we understand that if Stephen were given polling data showing a pathway to victory and a commitment from the Republican Governors Association (chaired by Christie, by the way), he'd be willing to look closely at it.
Clearly, the Democratic Governors Association and other national Democratic-oriented sources stand ready to pour millions into the race to keep Maggie Hassan, the nation's only woman Democratic governor, in office.
REACTION TO FRIDAY'S bleak December jobs report from elected officials and candidates was clearly split along party lines.
The report showed that while the unemployment rate fell from 7 to 6.7 percent, only 74,000 jobs were added, well below the 200,000 increase many economists were expecting.
A spokesman for Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said she believes it shows "how critical it is for Washington to do more to boost job creation and economic growth through job-creating legislation like the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy bill that would create at least 136,000 jobs."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte said, "This report highlights the need for Washington to focus on passing policies that make it easier for businesses to create jobs, including replacing Obamacare, cutting burdensome federal regulations, reforming our complex tax code and making energy more affordable."
Sen. GOP Senate candidate Jim Rubens said the report showed a need for "reduced regulations, a simpler and fairer tax system with lower rates, and reduced health care costs, which Obamacare fails to accomplish."
Former Sen. Bob Smith said, "Although weather and other factors from time to time can skew these numbers, it is a clear sign that there is a lack of confidence in the economy by the small businesses across the country who are the ones who would create new jobs. I believe that there is a direct link between these new numbers and the fear of new costs that businesses will be forced to absorb due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)."
Republican congressional candidate Dan Innis said it was "yet another disappointing reminder that President Obama and Congresswoman (Carol) Shea-Porter's big government policies are not working."
Democrat Shea-Porter said the GOP-led House "first refuses to invest in job creation, then they refuse to extend vital unemployment benefits for those who can't find jobs.''
"I have repeatedly called on Republican House Speaker John Boehner to bring a jobs bill to the House floor," Shea-Porter said.
Republican former Rep. Frank Guinta said it shows "Washington's takeover of health care, deficit spending and over-regulation is directly affecting New Hampshire families."
Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster said the report shows "while our economy is making progress, we have a lot more work to do to create jobs and opportunity for middle-class families."
GOP congressional candidate Gary Lambert said, "More regulation, more spending will only produce more numbers like today."
Marilinda Garcia, Republican candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, said: "Continued sluggish job growth is a direct result of the job-crushing policies enacted by President Obama and his allies in Congress. Obamacare, and the perpetual state of uncertainty regarding our nation's fiscal health, tax policies and regulatory environment, directly impacts business investment and job creation.''
- The airwaves battle continues between critics of Shaheen and those of potential GOP opponent former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. The conservative issues advocacy group American for Prosperity added a radio ad component to its television buy hitting Shaheen for her pro-Obamacare stance. The total expenditure is about $700,000 over three weeks. Sen. Harry Reid's Senate Majority PAC hit Brown with $150,000 worth of TV ads.
- Former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey hosted a well-attended house party for GOP Senate candidate Jim Rubens on Thursday. Humphrey says he is backing Rubens because "he is by far the best candidate in the race. No one has done more than Jim Rubens, while in the State Senate and later as a private citizen, to keep our state a wholesome place for raising children. And he can win."
- Humphrey's former colleague, former Sen. and current candidate Bob Smith, has set up campaign shop at 273 S. River Road in Bedford and has added Pam Miller as a scheduler and Rep. Tim Comerford as field director. His new web site, www.BobSmithforUSSenate.com, is also up and running.
- Just four months into the job, Democratic National Committee Mo Elleithee was in the state Friday to talk to state party officials about "communications resources and infrastructure" the mid-terms and, yes, even the presidential primary campaign. Elleithee knows New Hampshire well, having worked here on campaigns for Bill Bradley in 2000 and Wes Clark in 2004. He was headquarters-based for Hillary Clinton in 2008 but was also here often.
- The conservative grassroots group Freedom Works is joining Americans for Prosperity in opposing Medicaid expansion. The group on Friday pitched a statewide conference call scheduled for Tuesday featuring state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford.
- U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Cal., chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will keynote the Concord/Merrimack County Lincoln Day Dinner on Feb. 17 at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.
- Democratic District 1 Executive Council candidate Mike Cryans has picked up the key endorsement of Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, who said Cryans is best suited to continue Ray Burton's "tradition of putting people first." He has also been endorsed by the Teamsters Local No. 633.
- GOP Executive Council candidate Christopher Boothby has been endorsed by 26 state representatives and other officials in District 1, including three sheriffs and four state senators.
John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter: @jdistaso.