New Jersey Gov. Christie to address sandals and issues facing state
(CNN) — Tuesday’s State of the State address is the most important speech of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s career.
The embattled Republican, who’s seriously considering a 2016 run for the White House, is facing multiple controversies that threaten to complicate his political future.
And because of his national standing and the unfolding political scandal that has rocked his administration, an appearance to talk about what’s happening in New Jersey will garner a coast-to-coast spotlight.
“This will be the most watched State of the State address, most likely, across the country. Other governors are probably not envious of Christie’s problemsbut they are envious of his spotlight,” said CNN Chief National Correspondent John King.
But the attention also offers Christie a chance to try and move forward.
What he’s expected to say
Sources close to the governor told CNN that he will confront the controversy surrounding suggestions top aides orchestrated traffic gridlock around the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last year in an alleged case of political payback against the town’s mayor.
Expect him to tackle that subject head-on, Paul Mulshine, an opinion columnist with the Newark “Star Ledger” told CNN.
“He’ll be addressing it. He’s the kind of guy that likes to get right after that stuff,” Mulshine said.
And he’ll also pivot to his legislative agenda, calling for a longer school day and school year as part of his continuing education reforms.
Known for working across the political aisle, Christie will highlight bipartisan accomplishments.
He’ll say the state’s biggest achievements have been reached by putting politics aside and working together. Christie will challenge the people of New Jersey and the legislature to do the same thing during his second term.
Those were the points Christie hit during his re-election victory speech in November. And with the next race for the White House on the horizon, that’s the message Christie hopes will resonate with the bigger national audience.
“This is where you acknowledge the political wins and losses of the year,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, tells CNN.
And while Christie has plenty of political victories to tout, including that landslide re-election, he also has plenty of losses to acknowledge.
What he needs to say
For the second time in less than a week, Christie will address the scandal with a national audience looking on.
A crisis management expert says Christie needs to use his State of the State address to emphasize that he didn’t know about the bridge scandal at the time it was unfolding, which he said last week at a news conference.
“This battle is beyond what he has to ‘say.’ Most of what he could say, he said very well last week. Now, it’s a matter of negotiating the water torture drip of allegation. The single most important thing will come down to whether there is direct evidence linking him to the bridge caper. If he’s truly clean on this, that is the main point he will have to hammer,” Eric Dezenhall, CEO of Dezenhall Resources, a crisis management firm, told CNN.
King says to expect more of what Christie told reporters in Trenton.
“I think it will be very similar to what he did at the beginning and the tone he kept throughout his marathon news conference last week, in which he said that he’s going to get to the bottom of this, that he’s going to cooperate with the investigations, and that he’s sorry, that he’s embarrassed himself and he’s embarrassed his state — something to that effect, as he says this and then tries to pivot.”
Also important is how he says it.
Christie’s tone may be as important as what he says during his speech. At last week’s news conference, the governor’s trademark swagger and bravado were gone. Expect a repeat performance.
“The content will be (the) same, the accomplishments will be the same, but the tone will have a lot less bravado, because he has to acknowledge there were missteps in his administration, that his leadership skills have taken a hit because of what happened,” said Murray.
“He’s still a Jersey guy, and he’s not going to lose that image, or reality, but he’s got to soften that bully image,” added Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
A special audience
With his re-election behind him and speculation of his 2016 presidential intentions soaring, Christie’s State of the State address was always going to have a national feel to it.
Even before the new controversies, “it would have been a speech very much geared towards 2016,” said Murray, who adds that the address now takes on extra special significance for a specific audience.
“The Republican Party and the RNC and the donor base will be paying close attention to this speech to see what kind of candidate Christie is when he’s hurt. Does he know how to acknowledge the damage that’s been afflicted and is he able to be humble and recover from it in a way that makes him a viable candidate going forward,” added Murray.
A sign of how he takes a beating
The speech will be extremely significant, but it will not bring an end to this story.
“A lot of modern politics comes down to the sustained demonstration of endurance, the sheer capacity to take a beating. The public regards this abuse as being part of the process. This is not defused with spin or punched away – it is endured, and endurance is determined by the provable facts that emerge, the resilience of the politician, the devotion of his enemies and the depth of his constituents. The chances that bad facts are going to emerge is about 99.99%,” Dezenhall added.
King says the challenge is what we are talking about three or six months from now.
“Are we talking about how Governor Christie put this scandal in the rear view mirror, and look what he did on education, look what he did on property taxes, or are we still talking about this because the legislative investigation is going to go on for weeks if not months?” King asked.
“The federal government is looking into several questions when it comes to Governor Christie’s administration. So he’s better dealing with (it) in January 2014 than January 2015, but he’s got to start to put this behind him,” King said.
By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Chief National Correspondent Jake Tapper and CNN’s Halimah Abdullah contributed to this report.