Chris Christie‘s presidential ambitions didn’t end this week. But the New Jersey governor has stumbled into the kind of scandal Republicans have tried in vain to hang around the neck of his fellow White House front-runner, Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of State emerged from the Benghazi controversy relatively unscathed after Republicans failed to directly implicate her in the death of four Americans at the North African outpost. The same cannot be said of Christie, who must answer for the vindictive actions of his staff even if he wasn’t personally involved in last September’s closure of two traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge. There’s no doubt this scandal is the first real tarnish on his campaign.
— Democrats are seizing the moment. Their efforts to define Christie’s during last year’s reelection bid were ineffectual — after all, it’s hard to knock a Republican when he’s on his way to a 20-point victory in a deep-blue state. Now they have a warehouse of ammunition to use. “What they’re doing now in 2014 is making up for lost time,” said one GOP senior strategist. “And they’re doubling their efforts.”
— After four years of using his proximity to New York as an advantage, the governor is also discovering the downside of running a state (partially) in the country’s largest media market. This would register as a big story anywhere, especially if the man at the center of it was a leading presidential candidate. But that the traffic jam happened next to New York has raised the outcry’s decibel level, and pushed cable networks the give the story wall-to-wall coverage.
— Influential Republicans, who have gleefully lined up behind the Jersey governor’s looming presidential campaign, will watch closely how he handles himself the next few days. His press conference Thursday, in which he said the scandal had “embarrassed and humiliated” him, appeared to be a good first step. Not to mention the swift firing of former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and the veritable excommunication of former campaign manager Bill Stepien.
So far, most party elders are standing by the governor. But on a national stage, the first real damage to Christie has been done.
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