Still wading through controversy, Chris Christie tries to revive W.H. ambitions

PORTLAND, Maine -- Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fought to revive his presidential aspirations in northern New England on Wednesday, declaring he would not be silenced by scandal while campaigning alongside one of the nation's most endangered Republican governors.

Christie said he shared Maine Gov. Paul LePage's leadership style, despite regular criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike who accuse the tough-talking governors of being bullies.

"The one thing they can't say about LePage and I is that we sound like everybody else - we don't, because we tell the truth. We say what we think. We're very direct," Christie said while facing out-of-state reporters for the first time since an alleged political retribution scandal erupted in New Jersey.

"They're not going to silence me, and they're certainly not going to silence Gov. LePage," Christie said. "We'll be who we are."

Despite the show of confidence, both Republican governors have struggled through a series of largely self-inflicted controversies that jeopardize their political futures. The stakes are highest for the New Jersey governor as he eyes a 2016 presidential campaign.

Federal prosecutors launched a criminal investigation after internal documents revealed that several of Christie's aides last September orchestrated a traffic jam on lanes leading to the highly-trafficked George Washington Bridge to apparently punish a local mayor who'd declined to endorse Christie's reelection bid.

The governor has repeatedly and adamantly denied having anything to do with the lane closures and fired the aides involved. Still, a Quinnipiac poll last month showed that by a 20-point margin, New Jersey voters aren't buying the results of an internal investigation commissioned by Christie that concluded he had nothing to do with the scandal.

A blue-state governor who doesn't have the full support of the conservative base, Christie may have trouble winning over conservatives even without the bridge hubbub.

LePage, meanwhile, is facing a daunting re-election challenge. Since winning in 2010 with just over 38 percent of the vote, LePage has vetoed the most bills of any Maine governor. He's withheld millions of dollars in voter-approved bonds until the Legislature passed bills he wanted and briefly barred his commissioners from testifying before lawmakers.

Democrats seized on Christie's appearance with LePage as part of an ongoing push to tarnish the prospective presidential candidate's image.

"They seem to be two governors in America who have perfected the tirade, which usually leaves their constituents embarrassed for their words and actions," Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said before the visit.

Christie was trying to move forward with his official duties as chairman of the Republican Governor's Association on Wednesday, headlining fundraisers to benefit LePage and the Maine GOP. He has made similar trips across the country in recent months, avoiding public appearances and reporters until Wednesday.

Christie largely sidestepped questions about the bridge controversy, focusing instead on his dedication to Republican governors across the country eager to benefit from his fundraising prowess.

"I'll answer questions directly and continue to work really hard for the candidates who ask me to come in and help them," Christie said. "We have no shortage of people asking."

And LePage is fighting for re-election after a first term marked by controversial statements that at times embarrassed his Republican colleagues. He once used a sexual vulgarity to criticize a Democratic lawmaker, told the Portland branch of the NAACP to "kiss my butt," compared the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo and joked that he'd like to blow up the Portland Press Herald building.

Political observers say LePage stands the best chance of winning if Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler split the Democratic vote. But LePage's campaign says that Democrats are trying to paint the governor as a "bully" to distract voters from his accomplishments that have helped Maine.

"When it comes to people like Chris Christie and myself, what we tell you is what we believe," LePage said Wednesday. "It's not what you want to hear, oftentimes. We understand that. But believe me, it's the truth."

Comments