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Pollster Says Bridgegate Could Derail Christie White House Bid

David Wildstein, who says Gov. Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening, speaks during a hearing at the Statehouse in Trenton earlier this month.
Mel Evans
David Wildstein, who says Gov. Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening, speaks during a hearing at the Statehouse in Trenton earlier this month.

A deepening scandal over lane closures used to punish a New Jersey mayor who refused to endorse Gov. Chris Christie could damage the moderate Republican's chances for a 2016 presidential run, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute tells NPR.

Patrick Murray, in an interview on Weekend Edition Saturday, says that the latest allegations have upped the ante on the brewing "Bridgegate" scandal.

As we reported on Friday, an attorney for David Wildstein, the former head of the New Jersey Port Authority who oversaw the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, said his client had evidence indicating that despite denials by Christie, he knew of the lane closures as they were happening.

Without seeing the evidence, Wildstein's allegations "this is just a charge, but a charge by somebody who would be in a position to know," Murray tells WESAT host Scott Simon.

As we wrote earlier:

"[Wildstein's] assertion contradicts earlier statements by Christie, who has said that he was "embarrassed and humiliated" when he found out that the lane closures were politically motivated instead of, as he'd been led to believe, part of a traffic study."

"He said members of his staff acted without his permission or knowledge in September when they closed the lanes in what appeared to be an attempt to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. The closures caused massive traffic jams."

"If nothing comes out of this, [Christie] can rebuild from this, but it's going to take some time [even] if there's no evidence," Murray says.

When the scandal initially unfolded, "we found that there was a benefit of the doubt among the New Jersey people on how this may play out," he says. "[But] this may be too far. We've already seen indications that his allies in the legislature, ... the [Democratic] leadership that controls the legislature, who have been with him all along, have now deserted him."

More importantly, Murray says, Christie had hoped to use the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association as a springboard for his 2016 run for the White House, Murray says, but bridgegate could derail that plan.

"He was going to go around the country campaigning for all these governors running in 2014. He was going to raise money for them and he was going to get chits," Murray says.

"[If] he is seen as ineffective in that role or he is forced to step down because he doesn't have time to get out from under this cloud, that could have a big impact on his presidential ambitions even if these allegations aren't true," he says.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.